Sunday sermon on the Gospel lesson taken from Luke 16:19-31
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man on its surface seems to be about what happens after we die, about heaven and hell, about the future life. The bad, rich man is tormented in hell, while the poor Lazarus is comforted in Paradise next to Abraham.
No story is that simple, however, no parable of Christ is that shallow. For example, we know that the rich man was rich, but his wickedness is never fully described or even suggested. All we know is that he dresses in really, really expensive clothing and eats a lot of good food. Likewise, no virtue, piety, or good deed of Lazarus is described.
Rather, the parable explicitly explains their fate by pointing out that in their earthly lives, the rich man received his good things (which led to hell) and Lazarus received his bad things (which led to Paradise).
Some of the dangers of focusing too much on the future life is that we either neglect the present life as irrelevant, because we look forward to spending an eternity with God; or we disregard that future life because it is far away and may not even be there.
Unlike God, human beings have a beginning – it’s when God gives us life. But like Him, through His grace, once we begin to live, we live forever. No matter how long we get to live in this earthly life, be it one minute or one hundred years, this life is already part of our eternity.
When a person dies, the body may go through the natural cycle of decay, but our soul, our life, goes on, keeps on existing, keeps on living. Therefore, because of Christ’s victory on the Cross, our physical death is neither the beginning, nor an end of anything. Our life continues forever.
The lives of Lazarus and the rich man continued after their deaths. And they continued on a course that was set by their lives in this world. They continued on a course that they themselves set in their earthly lives.
And this is the main point of this parable. How I live now, in the present, today, determines not only my tomorrow, but my eternity.
The rich man ended up in hades not because he was a good guy who made some bad choices. Rather, he’s there because of who he had become as a result of his choices. Same with Lazarus. He wasn’t a bad guy who did something good and was carried by the angels after death.
As a little background, Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees, after talking to them about their love of money, their love of reputation, and their love of appearance before others.
The rich man had all the things he really, really wanted – money, reputation, and good appearance before his friends.
In our present-day Western society, if we really, really want something and if we are willing to sacrifice everything for it, there’s a good chance we’ll get it. Right? What’s the mantra these days? – put your mind to it, work hard, and success will come. Or something like that.
Is it wrong to desire a successful and good-paying career, a nice house, or a decent car? No, of course not. But what kind of choices am I willing to make to get what I really, really want? How much am I ready to sacrifice?
The answers to these question are important because my choices now set me on a course that will continue forever.
The rich man must’ve felt really good about his choices and his life. I mean, he had a party every single day. And God knows how much he had to sacrifice to get what he really, really wanted. We do not hear anything about his wife or kids, for instance.
His life continued on the course that he himself set in this earthly life. His life did not change after he died, it continued, forever. So how does a life of lavishness continue with torments in hell? How is it even the same?
It depends on how much we are ready to sacrifice and to whom we are willing to make these sacrifices; how much are we willing to sell out? To get anywhere in life, we need to sacrifice something. To get to church on Sunday we need to sacrifice an hour or two of sleep; we need to sacrifice breakfast; and in present conditions, we need to sacrifice fear of covid-19.
To get a successful and well-paying career, we need to sacrifice a lot of sleepless nights of studying; we need to sacrifice our pride to start at the bottom and climb up the career ladder; perhaps we even need to sacrifice our health to get a career we really, really want.
You get the point, to get somewhere or to get something, we need to sacrifice a lot, if not everything. It’s in this process of sacrificing that we run a risk of neglecting those who might give us the real meaning to life; a life that, as I said, continues unto ages of ages.
For the rich man, the person who could’ve given him the meaning to his rich and awesome life was Lazarus. All that Lazarus really, really wanted were some scraps of food that would be thrown away anyway. Was it a big deal? Would he have to sacrifice a lot to feed Lazarus?
In our pursuit of the things we really, really want, we can become numb to those around us. Christ never says that wealth is bad in and of itself. But He does say that wealth is the most serious temptation that blinds us.
That’s why Christians, from very early on, probably from the beginning, who had been richly blessed in this life, saw a dilemma in their life. And wealth does not have to be the only form of this rich blessing. A lot of us are richly blessed with many talents that can and should be used appropriately.
In order to ensure that their rich blessings don’t set their life on the wrong course, Christians have always practiced alms giving or charity. Saint John Chrysostom once said that “the rich exist for the sake of the poor. And the poor exist for the salvation of the rich.”
We practice alms giving throughout the year, but it is amplified during the four main fasting periods. And we have one coming up very soon – the Advent, the Nativity Fast. So, if God has blessed you with something you really, really wanted, figure out a way to use your blessing charitably. There’s bound to be a Lazarus laying under our gate.
We do not need to focus on some future life to keep us in check, it will come when it will come. But we do try to figure out a way to use our God-given blessings today, to set our life on a Godly course today, so that what we really, really want won’t blind us to those who really, really need us.
To God, the Giver of all good things, we give all glory, honor, and worship, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.