Friday, October 31, 2008

Encountering Lazarus



Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

I would like to present a point that I made somewhat forcefully in last Sunday's homily. We heard the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (LK. 16:19-31). A wonderful parable, indeed, but a frightening one as Christ describes the torments of Hades/Hell for those who refuse to practice charity in this life. The "rich man" dressed well and ate well, according to the parable (16:19). But yet he ignored Lazarus who lay outside his gate (on a daily basis?). Lazarus, of course, was not only poor, but he was "full of sores," and seemingly at a near-starvation level, because he would have been content with whatever "fell from the rich man's table" (16:20-21). Upon their respective deaths, there was a staggering "reversal of fortune." Lazarus "was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom" (16:22); but the nameless (not an insignificant detail) rich man was delivered to Hades, the shadowy realm of death where the presence of God cannot be enjoyed. Conscious and tormented by his condition, and reminded by the Lord that his indifference to Lazarus put him there: "Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things" (16:25), the rich man languishes in agony and regret. And it is too late to repent so that he can come over to the bosom of Abraham, a clear image of paradise: "between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us." (16: 26)

It is difficult to determine just how much in a parable can be applied in a doctrinal manner to the mystery of the judgment and the world to come; but nevertheless this parable should have our undivided attention when it comes to our charitable side when contemplating our impending judgment. (There is, of course, the Parable of the Last Judgment in MATT. 25:31-46, read right before the beginnng of Great Lent). We may read the parable as a warning or as an encouragement, but the lesson remains the same. A lack of charity among those who have the means to practice it, reveals an indifference that leaves one unprepared for the joy of God's presence in the age to come.

We hardly encounter a Lazarus type in our everyday lives. We are protected from such encounters. The appeal to our charitable side comes through less direct sources - the mail, audio communication, word-of-mouth, but also in our churches. We periodically have collections for the poor and needy, for victims of natural disasters and the like. This appeal is usually in the form of a basket that is placed by the Cross, so that after the Liturgy, we may come forward, kiss the Cross, and place our contribution in the basket. Here, then, is how I see this parable being actualized - made present - in our own lives, at least periodically. The basket, or basket-holder, represents Lazarus, and each one of us represents the rich man. When we go by the basket, we go right past Lazarus. Do we stop and attend to the needs of Lazarus, or do we pass him by as did the rich man? The description of being "rich" is quite relative, for we are all well-clothed and well-fed as was the rich man. We can always put "something' in the basket (beyond what would honestly be deemed a mere token gesture). The right question, therefore, is not: "Can I afford to put something in the basket?" It is: "Can I afford not to put something in the basket in the light of Christ's parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man?" Or, is it possible to kiss the Cross of our Savior, and then walk right by "Lazarus?" Such a thought should strike our conscience, open our hearts - and then our pockets or purses.

We can hardly respond to every appeal that comes our way. We have to make choices based on some discernment. I am raising the point of enjoying our Lord's hospitality toward us in the Eucharistic liturgy, because He made Himself poor so that we could be made rich in Christ Jesus (II COR. 8:9) - a saving event actualized whenever we celebrate the Liturgy. Lazarus can be in our midst also, in one form or another. It may take some sympathetic imagination to "see" him in a mere basket by the Cross, but hopefully the parable will convince us that the way of the rich man is not consistent with the gifts of God that we enjoy in such abundance.

Fr. Steven

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