Lazarus and the Rich Man – Luke 16:19-31
Our Lord has taught us the purest form of Holiness with regard to the use of our riches in His instructions earlier given where He said, “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.” Later he also told the rich young ruler how to be perfect saying, “sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”
But our Lord is merciful and desires our salvation more than we do ourselves and has provided a lesser way in which we can still learn and be granted access to Heaven. He teaches us saying, “And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” Those that cannot fully abandon money altogether are told to distribute it to those in need and when it fails us as we leave this life, we will be received into the everlasting habitations of Heaven for having taken care of the poor.
In today’s gospel reading we hear of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. We are shown the drastic difference between one who was so wealthy and took no notice of the need to care for the poor and someone so poor and sickly that he could not take care of himself, much less offer anything to the poor. In one way we could say that God unequally lends possessions to men. This is done to teach man that we depend on each other and to make wise use of what God has lent us, working towards both our own salvation and that of our brethren.
But in another way, we would say that God has equally bestowed possessions among mankind because with each person’s amount of possessions, different temptations are made. Those with less possession struggle with temptations like despair and sadness, while those many possessions struggle with almsgiving, gluttony, pride, and a plethora of sins.
What is seen by the physical eye is many times not what is true of the spiritual reality. In the parable we see a rich man in costly apparel that actually physically represents the spiritual reality of Lazarus because he was spiritually rich because he had learned the truth of the vanity of transient riches and become humble enough to desire only crumbs that had fallen to the floor, not seeing himself as deserving of great honor as many of us do.
On the other hand, we see Lazarus, poor and sick and starving to death. He physically represents the spiritual condition of the rich man. He was lacking the basic decency of not feeling sorry for Lazarus and providing him even the minimal help of giving him his leftovers from his daily feasts. The passage does not even add other sins to this because it is clear that if he was lacking in this area, many other sins abounded in him.
What can we learn from this story other than the basic teaching to not neglect the poor? If we look closely to the description of the rich man, we can glean a few other lessons. First, we see that the rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen. This is no mere trivial description. St. Gregory the Great teaches that this description proves the sinfulness of acquiring costly clothing saying, “No one looks for remarkable clothes except out of vainglory, to appear more worthy of respect than others. That no one puts on expensive clothing where he cannot be seen by others testifies that costly clothing is only sought out of vainglory.” He then makes note that the Holy Saint, John the Baptist is described wearing cheap clothing to prove that wearing cheap clothes is virtuous.
Next, we see that the rich man fared sumptuously every day. We are tempted to find pleasure in entertainment every day. But we must remember that we are not to have hearts that are only aroused to merriment by musicians and dancers, but that our hearts must be filled with joy and merriment by God as the Psalmist says, “My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God” (Psalm 84:2)
As we see the judgment of the Rich man and Lazarus, we see the reversal of the joy and suffering experienced by the two men. The rich man is now like Lazarus that only wanted crumbs, asking for a drip of water. We are warned about the torment that awaits those in Hell.
Many are deceived into thinking that Jesus has lightened the strictness that God required of His people as laid out in the Old Testament. But as seen in this parable and in many of our Lord’s teachings, much more is required of Christians than was required of the Jews. Then he only commanded to not steal, now by not giving of what is legally yours, you will be condemned.
We might wonder why the rich man seems to be concerned with his 5 brothers, when he seems to be an evil man. It’s possible that he is making the excuse that he was not warned enough about the need to give alms and is using his concern for his brothers as a way to justify himself. It is also possible that part of the torments he was experiencing were due to his influence on his younger brothers. If he was able to warn them, his torments could be reduced. It could also just be that although he still had love for his own family members, he was not found worthy of entrance into Heavenly life, much like the commandment to love our enemies. We are told that even sinners love those that love them.
Allegorically, we can look at this rich man as those who have been given so much abundance in the knowledge of God through the Church but instead of being a source of Love, it became a source of pride. The poor beggar, Lazarus, symbolizes those around us that we fail to even give even the crumbs of the faith that we have squandered.
In these trying times in which man is in desperate need of God’s Love, may we find ways to share with those starving and covered in sores the banquet we have been blessed to have access to in the Sacraments of the Church. We cannot keep these things to ourselves just as we cannot hoard our physical possessions. We will all have to account for how we shared what God has graciously given each of us. May we be found worthy of joining the ranks of our Father Abraham who although was materially wealthy, is not described as rich, because his virtue was greater than his wealth, being known for his hospitality to strangers in which he cared for angels that represented the Holy Trinity, to whom be the glory, honor, and worship, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.