The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (16:19-31)
In today’s gospel we are told a parable, a story from the mouth of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. This story is both frightening and hopeful. Whether it will be frightening or hopeful for us will depend strongly on how we respond to the Lord’s message. The Lord tells us that there was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. We are told that he wore purple and this was a sign in antiquity of having great wealth. Purple dye and purple cloth was very rare and expensive at that time. This man who dressed ver well also ate very well. Every day he had the equivalent of a great feast. I imagine that this man was not very physically healthy because of the way that he ate but more importantly we know that he was really very sick in his soul. It was not the fact that he had great wealth, that made him unwell. It was that his wealth was not directed to anything outside of himself and his will. His wealth was centered around his own disordered desires and not towards the God who had blessed him with all of this wealth to begin with.
How do we know that this man was self-centered and not God-centered? We see it clearly demonstrated in the way that he neglected the poor man who was at his gate. Why should this be an issue? Isn’t life about making as much money as possible and focusing all of it on our own comfort and enjoyment? Isn’t that the American dream? Yet, according to the Lord Jesus Christ, this type of attitude is a great sin. As we are about to jump on the roller coaster that we call “the holiday season” we would do well to remember that our life in Christ needs to be rooted in His teachings and the main two commandments we are taught is to love God with everything that we have and everything that we are, and the second is like it: to love your neighbor as yourself. These commandments apply to every season, even every second of our lives.
The poor man, named Lazarus, was at the very gate of the rich man. It means that he was in plain view, not hidden away. The rich man could see him but he had no compassion, no love, no mercy for the terrible situation of the poor man at his doorstep. Sometimes we are the same. We see beggars at the exits of the highways and we wonder whether that person is really poor. We see them and we wonder why they are just sitting there and not out working. But this is not what the Lord has asked of us. He doesn’t want us to assess the situation but to do our part to be obedient to His words and His example.
This rich man knew of the existence of Lazarus, but he pretended that he did not exist. He saw a fellow human being, created in the same image and likeness of God, and he treated him as if he was nothing at all. We are told that the dogs came to lick the sores of the poor man. St. Cyril of Alexandria writes “Yes, it says that even the dogs licked his sores and did not injure him yet sympathized with him and cared for him. Animals relieve their own sufferings with their tongues, as they remove what pains them and gently soothe the sores. The rich man was crueler than the dogs, because he felt no sympathy or compassion for him but was completely unmerciful.”
Can you imagine that the irrational dogs showed more compassion than the man who was created with a rational soul and created in the image and likeness of God, who had the means to offer real help and assistance? What does that say about the rich man? Nothing good.
You see that this is kind of attitude he displays is possible when we are wealthy and well fed. We can forget that others suffer and have very little. We can find it hard to empathize and feel their pain. So we are reminded by the Lord that it is our duty to care for those who are around us and are clearly in need. You don’t have to go far away to look for the poor, and needy and serve them. You will find them near you, if you are looking for them.
We are struck by the hardness and lack of mercy of that rich man. Can we imagine how we would be treated if God Himself were like this rich man? We would all be in dire straits. But we thank God that He is not like this rich man and also not like us. He is generous and merciful, long-suffering and His love is boundless and unending love. Whatever He has, He is willing to share with us. He is not content to see us in our poor suffering state, but He has gone out of His way to help us, even at the expense of the suffering and death of His own Son. This is the pattern of mercy and love that we are called to follow. It is not easy, but this is the way. The Church helps us to learn this pattern through teaching us the disciplines such as fasting. We are encouraged to feel hunger and thirst, to feel our need for God. This helps us to become more human. We are also encouraged by the Lord and by the fathers of the Church to give alms and help the poor as often as we can.
St. Nikolai Velimirovich once said,
“Similar things happen in almsgiving and in Holy Communion. In Holy Communion we receive the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of bread and wine; in almsgiving we give to the Living Lord Christ Himself, in the form of the poor and needy. A certain man in Constantinople was unusually merciful. Walking along the streets of the city, he would press his gift into the hands of the poor and hurry onward, so he would not hear their gratitude or be recognized. When a friend of his asked how he had become so merciful, he replied: “Once in church I heard a priest say that whoever gives to the poor, gives into the hands of Christ Himself. I didn’t believe it, for I thought, ‘How can this be, when Christ is in heaven?’ However, I was on my way home one day and I saw a poor man begging, and the face of Christ shone above his head! Just then a passerby gave the beggar a piece of bread, and I saw the Lord extend His hand, take the bread, and bless the donor. From then on, I have always seen Christ’s face shining above the beggars. Therefore, with great fear I perform as much charity as I can.’
So, what would be dreadful for us if we were neglectful, becomes a source of great hope for us when we are obedient. God loves us and He will reward even the slightest dead done in His name with love. Regardless of whatever we give to the poor, the Lord will supply our needs and will count our acts of mercy as a great act of love not only towards the poor, but towards the Lord Himself. It is a double blessing guarantee. So let us not be like the rich man who was not even named in the gospel. He was not to be found in the book of life. But let us be tools that God might use us for His purposes and our benefit. To Him alone be glory, honor and dominion always now and ever and unto ages of ages AMEN.