The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (16:19-31)
We cannot begin to understand the immense blessing that Our Lord Jesus Christ shares with us by the opening of His mouth and the sharing of divine realities with us. Every time that we open the pages of the gospel we encounter something very special. We encounter truth. Mysteries are opened to us that had been hidden for many generations and from many peoples. Yet we often treat the gospels as if they are mundane and uninteresting, when in fact it is often our understanding of reality that is mundane and uninteresting because it is not formed by the word of life.
In today’s gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ gives us a short glimpse into something that we could never have properly imagined or understood. Into what happens to men when they die. Of course many people over thousands of years theorized and tried to imagine life after death, but here we understand that one of the true mysteries of life is unlocked and opened for us mere human beings. As is so often the case our Lord teaches through His beautiful stories or parables. This was a parable about a rich man and a very poor beggar named Lazarus. We are told that the rich man had everything possible in life, nice clothing, rich foods and on and on. It turns out that he was missing one thing, one very important characteristic which was something he could not purchase. He was poor in love. This lack of love demonstrates itself in his inability to be troubled to serve his neighbor Lazarus.
On the other hand, we hear about this poor man Lazarus. He seems to have had nothing at all, not even a penny to his name. For this reason, he would beg at the tables of the wealthy and would hope to scavenge just a few of the scraps that fell from the table. But there was something special that was hidden within that man Lazarus. He looked like a beggar and owned nothing, but inside, his heart and soul were full of treasures. We learn of his true identity when he dies and the angels carried him directly into a place called Abraham’s bosom. This is something of a synonym for paradise. We learn that this man was holy and full of love.
It should shock us, surprise us and hopefully remind us that God does not judge us based on our outward appearances, no matter who we are. He judges on something much more substantial. He judges us based on the condition of our souls. Have we acquired virtue? Have we loved God truly? Have we loved our neighbor as we loved ourselves? Those are some of the criteria upon which the Lord will judge us. Why? Because those virtues that we acquire or fail to acquire will remain as a permanent part of who we are, or who we aren’t, even after we die. Most of what we think we are, will fade away and vanish completely. We think that our bank accounts and our wardrobes and our haircuts and our instagram posts and our looks will define us, that they are somehow a part of us. But that’s not really true. Who you really are is known only by God, who sees the “hidden man of the heart”.
In the world, the rich man was the “bee’s knees”. He seemed to have everything in life. Yet in the eyes of the Lord, he was rather poor because he lacked similarity or likeness with God his creator. He was devoid of virtues, devoid of mercy, devoid of love. In God’s eyes, the rich man was the very definition of “poor”. In fact he was so poor that our Lord did not even give him a name. It’s as if the Lord truly did not know him. Yet how remarkable that the exact opposite was true for the poor man named Lazarus.
This man suffered greatly yet in all of his suffering, his heart was rich with love for God and His saints. The Lord saw all of his trials and tribulations in life. He saw all of his suffering, just as He sees all of our suffering. And the Lord saw deeper, into his heart. He found that while the man was financially and materially very poor, he was in fact a very wealthy man in disguise. In God’s eyes, this man was rich with virtues. His soul was pure and white as snow. His suffering in life was terrible, but it was actually an aid to his salvation. It reminds us that often the extreme difficulties that we encounter can have the potential to be like medicine for our souls. The Lord allows these things to inflict us and trouble us because He knows they can help form us and save us. Perhaps while we are suffering, we transform this pain and anguish into prayer. If our troubles in life help us learn to pray then they are more valuable than gold and silver by far. The poor man had nothing and it seems clear that he turned to God often. He became an intimate friend of God and the saints. After his death we find him resting in “the bosom of Abraham” with the righteous ones. That was the natural place for his soul to dwell. While the rich man dwelt in a place of misery and suffering. He dwelt in a place full of the regrets of his conscience that had ignored spiritual realities and now could ignore them no longer.
We are reminded by Our Lord Jesus Christ that our goals as the people of God, MUST transcend this very fragile life. Our goal is to work towards the heavenly life, the eternal life where God and His saints are ever present. Are you Christians? Make this the goal of your lives. St. Porphyrios, once said “Turn your mind towards [God] continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul…”
Let us have our work and families and friends and hobbies but let’s not forget to make the kingdom the true goal and purpose of our lives. My brothers and sisters, life is short. In the blink of an eye it can be over. It is easy for us to be distracted. I am guilty of becoming distracted with trivial things. We worry about politics and the economy and every little thing. But let us decide that the goal of our life is to know God and to share His love with others. Let us make this our primary concern so that on the day of judgment we will be full of joy and peace due to the overflowing virtues and purity of our hearts. In this way we join ourselves to the membership of the heavenly Church just like Lazarus, the poor man.
St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco said, “Now the Church consists of both her earthly and heavenly parts, for the Son of God came to earth and became man that He might lead man into heaven and make him once again a citizen of Paradise, returning to him his original state of sinlessness and wholeness and uniting him unto Himself. This is accomplished by the action of Divine grace… but man’s effort is also required. God saves His fallen creature by His own love for him, but man’s love for his Creator is also necessary; without it he cannot by saved…”
May our Lord Jesus Christ open the doors of the kingdom to each of us and may we strive to enter! AMEN.