The parable in today’s Gospel of the Rich Man and Lazarus, on the surface seems very clear to us, the rich man had every thing that this world could give him, he was clothed in the finest purple and linen, he ate the best gourmet food every day, he had great wealth, a good name and status among his fellow-citizens. He had all he wanted because … all he wanted was what this world could give him. He believed that material wealth, respect and admiration from those around him and obedience from those under him was all he really needed. And so he lived his life this way and felt satisfied, oblivious to the needs of those around him.
Lazarus on the other hand, possessed nothing of this world. He was only a beggar at the rich man’s gate, ignored and despised. He received the left-overs from the rich man’s table and whatever the rich man didn’t want, and he received all this with gratitude and something even more important, he didn’t complain.
And when they died and departed this life, what did they take with them? The rich man had nothing to take because he never had any concern for anything that this earth couldn’t give him. All his treasure, all his hope was in this world. He knew no other life, he had no other values, no other treasures than the gold of this world. His beautiful clothes, the gourmet banquets and the power he had over other people left him totally satiated.
But Lazarus was different. He had always longed for more than this earth could give: he knew the importance of justice and love, and peace. He longed for compassion, the kind of love and compassion that one true human being has for another.
The rich man was in a condition which is described in one of the Old Testament prophecies: “Israel has grown fat with wealth and has forgotten God…”
The poor man could do no such thing; he was too poor to be blinded by this world — he was actually free while the rich man was enslaved to the pleasures of this world.
But this powerful parable of the rich man and Lazarus is actually not about these two men, it’s actually about you and me, because inside of each one of us you will find these two men, the rich man and Lazarus.
The real problem with the rich man was not just that he had money and power, but that he believed that this was all that really mattered. His wealth and power were his only comfort, his treasure, his god! He didn’t share his wealth and he wasn’t compassionate and merciful in his power. What he thought was satisfying him was in fact enslaving him and blinding him. He could no longer see beyond the things of this world. Spiritually he was impoverished.
It doesn’t really matter how much wealth and power we have. Even a poor man can be blinded by the pleasures of this world and driven mad by his desire for the comforts of this life. He can rob and kill in order to acquire what he believes will bring him happiness.
So don’t be deceived into thinking that just because you don’t have wealth and power you can identify with Lazarus.
We are all here today, both monks and laymen because we long for something other than this world, we long for the spiritual treasures that cannot be taken away by this world. Those things which will nourish our heart and soul and bring us into the presence of God.
But the question has to be asked by each one of us. Who predominates in me, the rich man or Lazarus? Do I really prefer the things of this world of the things of God? Whether I am a monk or a laymen, I have to ask myself this question. Do I prefer to seek after power and position and the comforts of this life or do I truly seek after Christ above all else. Do I really have love for God and my neighbor. Am I merciful and compassionate?
If we had to choose between these two forces within us, which would we choose? Where and what is my real treasure? Is it the security that this world offers or is it the love of Christ? Am I indifferent to the sufferings of those around me or am I compassionate and merciful like Christ?
Am I prepared to follow Christ at all risks? Am I prepared to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him? Do I really believe the promises of Christ? Am I willing to suffer with Him? Am I willing to clothe the naked and feed the hungry?
In this parable of today’s Gospel, a judgement is made at the end on these men. We must remember that God is not seeking to condemn us, He desires the salvation of all mankind. He is all mercy and compassion. The judgment that is made is simply God presenting us with the reality of what we have chosen in this life. Am I the rich man or Lazarus?
We must either accept the reality of God’s infinite love and mercy or the illusions of the pleasures of this world.
My dear brothers and sisters, do not accept the false promises of this world but choose the reality of God’s word. Choose the truth and not the lie, choose to be merciful rather than judgmental, choose to love and not to hate, choose to trust and not be suspicious.
What can be greater in this life than seeking after Christ above all else? What could possibly give real meaning and purpose to our life, if not following Our Saviour?
+ Through the prayers of Our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us. Amen.