18th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on on the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31)

“There was a certain rich man clothed in purple and fine linen who fared sumptuously every day.  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate….”Today’s Gospel is sobering: We see one man who suffered great want in this life, saved, and another man, who had everything temporal in this life, condemned.  This ‘image’ is such a challenge, for one, because we live in an age where many assume they’re good (by their own definition) and, therefore, ‘automatically’ going to heaven, regardless of how they’ve lived their lives or how they’ve responded to the needs of others. Such a subjective understanding of Heaven (and of God’s judgment), however, is not of the Gospel.   

The fruit we’re expected to manifest in our lives is how we live out our faith in witness and response to those around us.  To be with God in the next life, you and I are admonished to desire that life, the life in Him, above all else, to be rich toward God and others, and ‘poor’ toward the distractions and temptations of the world, its power, hold, and callousness and indifference.  

God is so rich in love and mercy.  He gives us opportunities to love and to serve to His glory and our deification, to become more God-like.  He gives us the Scriptures and the divine services to form us in the mind of the Church, the mind of the Kingdom.  He feeds us with the sacramental life of that Kingdom even now as a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet, the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The question then is, how do we each respond to that which God’s entrusted to us.  Do we avail ourselves of these God-given means of our growth in divine grace, of opportunities to love, serve, and witness or do we prefer, like so many, to focus on gratifying our own wants? 

Today’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus reminds us that we can run the risk of taking God, and His love and mercy, for granted: we remember that we’ll all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to give an account of how we’ve lived, of what our response has been to God’s gracious offer of life and love with Him. Some of the Fathers say that our judgment on that “Last Day” will be based on how we know God now, how we love God now, how we say “Yes” to God now in this life, day to day—or, sadly—how we have said, “No” to God in all of the above.  This parable is an example of such judgment through self-examination, and so, it’s an opportunity for us to become convicted of our need to grow in faith and put it more into practice, not living just for ourselves but for the love of God and those whom God brings into our lives.   

God brings Lazarus into the life of the rich man, who treats Lazarus with scorn in this life. Even in the next life, he still sees Lazarus as his slave, existing solely for hisneed, saying, “Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”  In this life, this man’s wealth was his god; he lives for his own selfish pleasure, surrounding himself with all sorts of creature comforts.  He has‘knowledge’ of God, but does not knowor love God as we see in his lack of concern or compassion for Lazarus, or what God thinks about his actions.  

Lazarus, “full of sores,” laid at his gate, and longed to eat the crumbs off the rich man’s table. Lazarus dies and is taken up to God’s near presence, i.e. ‘the bosom of Abraham.’  The rich man also dies and is buried.  Having been deprived of his needs in this life, Lazarus enjoys the heavenly banquet in the true and eternal life with God and His Saints.  Lazarus is in eternal and perpetual memorybefore God. This is the basis for our prayers for our departed Orthodox brethren.  We desire for them “Memory Eternal” before God who is Eternal Life.  God knows Lazarus by name, just as He will remember the name of each of us who have lived with the priority of the Kingdom of Heaven in this life: in true repentance and communion, carrying our cross to follow Christ, to die to the old self and live to God and His truth in the new.  

The rich man, on the other hand, having lived only for himself and his own self-pleasure in this life, is deprived of God’s near presence in eternal life.  His name is not even remembered before God.  From God’s perspective, as St. John Chrysostom puts it, the rich man was already ‘buried’ in life by his “couches, rugs, furnishings, sweet oils, perfumes… wine, varieties of food, and flatterers” (Orthodox Study Bible, p. 1399).  In other words, because these things were his ‘god’ and his ‘god’ is temporal—all these things are buried with him.  

It’s tempting to see this story from an “us versus them” perspective.  “Oh, I’mnot like that rich man.”  But it behooves us to examine ourselves for a moment in light of the rich man just as we do in the Triodion period before Great Lent when we examine ourselves in light of the Pharisee.  All of us have been given ‘riches’ of one kind or multiple kinds or another—gifts, talents, intelligence, abilities, resources or other kinds of earthly treasure. Certainly, just by living in America, we live at a standard of living above most of the world.  The truth is that all of us will be asked what we’ve done with those riches entrusted to us at the Second Coming.  All of us will be asked how we’ve demonstrated our love for God and those around us, how we’ve furthered the work of the Church and lived out Christ’s Gospel, not just for ourselves but for the Church.

It should also be noted, however, that this parable is not a story condemning wealth.  Rather, it’s an illustration of what happens if we allow our soul to become cold-hearted, selfish and vain-glorious toward God, the Church, and our fellow man and become ‘poor’ or stingy towards Him and those around us—whatever our means.  Already, the rich man is withering and dying to God in this life, even as he fills himself with so much sumptuous bounty and indifference to others.  

To this extent, St. John asks, “Do you see how by the place, by the things that waste there (in the rich man’s house), he draws men off from this desire that is here, and rivets them to Heaven… For if you transfer your wealth there where neither rust or moth corrupts, nor thieves break through and steal, you will both expel this disease and establish your soul in the greatest abundance (Manley, The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox, p. 472). 

Our Lord reminds us in this regard, saying, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).  Ask yourself, are you longing for heaven?  Is your ‘treasure’ in Christ God and His unending Kingdom? If it is not, repent of any coldness of heart and start now to live with the priority of Christ and His Church before you, pray for greater love for God, your brothers and sisters, and your fellow man.  

All of us need to be wary of the ‘disease,’ of wanting to have our ease, of using others, even God, for our own ends, of being cold-hearted toward Him and the needs of His Church and others.  We conquer this disease by keeping our ‘vigil lamps’ lit, by examining how and for Whom we’re living now, how we’re loving, serving, and giving.  How much have we been willing to be Christ’s “light” and “salt” in this world, modeling the Gospel in word and deed, how generous are we in giving our “first fruits” to God in obedience to Him and His calling.  To this end, it can be helpful to periodically do an inventory of our riches—material and spiritual—to evaluate how we’re using them, whether for our own temporal use or for the building up of the Kingdom, that is, our life with God, our salvation, and that of those around us. This is the purpose of our pledge and commitment card, which we will offer up to God in good faith for 2020 at our Patronal Feast, Nov. 7.  We offer back to God from the “first fruits” He’s so graciously entrusted to us of our time, talents, treasure. 

And so, we come away from this parable reminded that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, that Christ is coming back again to judge the living and the dead.  God beckons even now to prepare and consider for Whom we live our earthly lives, that our names too, like Lazarus, may be remembered by God in His eternal Kingdom.  May we love Christ God first, being sensitive to the needs of those around us—both to their physical and their spiritual welfare.  May we give a “first fruits” of ourselves to God’s glory and our deification, serving and loving God,that we, like Lazarus, may be inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven now and in the life to come. 

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019                                    The Rich Man and Lazarus 8

Epistle:            Gal. 1:11-19

Gospel:            Luke 16:19-31