The Reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (16:19-31)
Most of you who have been paying attention for the past number of years have noticed that I typically don’t talk about money when I preach. I have many reasons for holding to this pattern. The first reason is that when you have a vibrant relationship with God, you will give without any push or encouragement. It will flow out of you generously as a sign of your gratitude and love for God. Secondly, I don’t want people to ever get the impression that finances are our number one priority as a church. Our number one priority is the worship of the living God and the healing that we can receive through this life of worship. The final reason that I don’t speak about money often is that I typically preach on the subject of the gospel readings and usually the main topic of the gospels readings is not finances or wealth.
It just so happens that today of all days, our gospel reading does touch on the subject of money. This also happens to be the final day of our initial two week capital campaign for the building of the church. This was not planned but has happened by coincidence, or perhaps by divine providence.
Our Lord Jesus tells us that there was a rich man who wore the nicest garments and ate the best meals each and every day of his life. Yet not far from the rich man, there was a poor beggar named Lazarus who merely tried to get close to the table and to eat the crumbs of the meal that would fall from the table. This poor Lazarus was in rough shape. We are told that his only companions were the dogs who came and licked his sores. But in an instant, their realities were forever changed. We are told that both men died. It is quite the meditation on death. Death doesn’t care about your status in life. Death doesn’t care about your age. Death doesn’t care about your gender or about your confusion with such things. Death doesn’t care about your sexuality. Death doesn’t care about your financial portfolio. Death doesn’t even care about your position in the church, whether patriarch or priest. Death is ruthlessly efficient at the task of equalizing each and every person in the grave.
However we learn from the words of our Lord Jesus Christ that death is more than a physical change. Death is a doorway to a spiritual reality. This reality has absolutely nothing to do with our status or accolades or riches according to the logic of the world. Rather, the transformation is based solely on the condition of one’s heart or soul. According to the parable, you can collect as much as you can imagine in possessions, in wealth and status, but these things will ultimately not be counted in your favor. What is counted in your favor is what you have acquired within your soul. So how do we acquire the treasures of the soul? And what are these treasures? They are the virtues. Sometimes we call them the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And there are no shortcuts to acquiring them in the earthly sense.
We know these fruits of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul mentions them in the letter to the Galatians when he writes “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23) These are the treasures of those who want to know God and to dwell with God and the saints.
How do we acquire these treasured virtues? We start to acquire them by living the commandments. The commandments are actually given to us as a track that keeps us on the proper path towards God and the things of God. Now in the course of our life, God will often allow trials and tribulations and suffering. Many of the fathers of the Church tell us that such trials and tribulations are given to us in order to refine us and help us to grow in faith. St. James in his Catholic epistle writes “Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Ja 1:2-4)
And the brother of the Lord continues later saying “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (Ja 1:12)
St. Isaac the Syrian also writes, “Once men have truly become His (God’s) sons, our tenderly compassionate Father does not take away their temptations from them when it is His pleasure to ‘make for them a way to escape’ (1 Cor. 10:13), but instead He gives His sons patience in their trials. All these good things are given into the hand of their patience for the perfecting of their souls.”
+ St. Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies (42)
Why am I mentioning all of this? Because this is what happened to the poor man named Lazarus throughout his life. Like many people, he suffered a lot. In the eyes of the world he was nothing but a poor beggar. Yet what was being built up for him was something of incomparably greater value. His soul overflowed with divine consolation. He was filled with the fruits of the spirit and the virtues of godliness. He was humble and merciful because he had suffered so much in his life.
And what of the rich man? He was the most impoverished of all! God had blessed him with much, but he turned the blessings of God into a curse by misusing them. How did he misuse them? By thinking only about himself and his desire for pleasure instead of thinking about using some of this wealth to serve others including the poor man who begged at his feet. He who was not generous in his life, found no generosity after death. He who was without mercy in his life, found no mercy after death.
My brothers and sisters, may the Lord not find us in such a state. But rather, may the Lord find that our hearts flow with generosity, mercy and love to all who ask or have need. In this way we will truly be sons and daughters of the Most High. AMEN.