My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
The divine words are always good and profitable unto us, so long as we pay them heed; for indeed most wonderful and most beneficial of all are those words which straighten out the ways of the soul, moving it to the desire and zeal for virtue, and counseling it to put aside and to avoid vice. For this reason the Lord does not cease to offer us beneficial advice, showing us things which lead us towards salvation and away from perdition.
For this reason does our Lord speak of virtue and of vice, delineating their opposing characteristics. That this is the case is shown clearly by the Gospel lesson which we have heard today, which conveys fitting lessons for both rich and poor. It teaches the rich to eschew excess and other allures of this life, as well as inhumanity towards one’s neighbour, and to embrace contentment and philanthropy. Likewise it teaches the poor and the needy not to be dejected by the sometimes unspeakable trials of poverty, but rather to bear them bravely and even gratefully, taking comfort from the genuine good hope of future blessings. This is the intention and the reason for relating the contrasting lives of the rich man and the poor man, the one immersed in luxury, the other distressed by poverty, and each receiving a reward in accord with his life, as the very words of today’s Gospel showed.
Desirous that we should be filled with true love, and ready to share of what we have, generous in giving; and wishing also to show the unmerciful the sad fate which awaits them, as well as to teach those who now suffer what blessings they will receive in the life to come, the Lord most wisely depicted for us in a parable of virtue and vice the mercilessness and great inhumanity of the rich man and the poverty and great patience of the beggar. Our Lord left the rich man without a name, as being one unworthy to be named by God; the beggar, however, He calls by name, Lazarus, because the names of the righteous will be written in the book of life.
The rich man was accustomed to dressing in purple and fine linen, making merry every day, splendidly, prodigally, excessively, while he grew richer from profits made on land and at sea, and enjoyed them; all the fruits of the rich man’s labours lay in costly robes, banquets, and feasting. Lazarus, however, crushed by indigence and illness, was cast before the man’s gates, and endured all the sufferings not only of poverty, but also of sickness.
“Moreover the dogs came, and licked his sores.”
The dogs are more merciful and friendly to the beggar than the rich man is; for the dogs would lick the beggar’s sores and wounds, without hurting him or biting him; it was as if they felt pity for him, soothing his sores with their tongues, silently alleviating his pain.
The rich man, however, did not even cast so much as a kind glance at the beggar, did not give him a word of greeting, would not deign to throw him some rags for bandages, would not give him a meal or even a morsel of bread.
And yet the beggar, Lazarus, did not blaspheme in the midst of such sufferings and such hardships; he did not become angry, did not grumble, did not disparage the rich man for living in luxury, did not condemn anyone, and did not even raise complaint against divine providence; with great wisdom he endured all things; therefore, when he died, the angels received him.
Lazarus, in his patience and his wisdom, was borne by the holy angels to Abraham’s bosom. Let those of us, then, who are poor and who suffer various woes, hear these words, and not be depressed by our poverty and afflictions; for, we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
The rich man likewise died, as is the lot of all mortal humanity. No one went before the rich man; no angels attended him, as had been done with Lazarus. Forasmuch as in this life the rich man had many people to serve him and to fulfill his every whim, in death he was left naked and deprived of everything; indeed, after but a brief period of leisure, he arrives at everlasting punishment; for the whole of this life is but a brief period in comparison with the life to come.
And so we hear of that life to come, my friends. Lazarus had ascended to the highest of heights, while the rich man descended into the lowest depths.
There, Lazarus did not see the rich man, but the rich man saw Lazarus, because they that are in the light do not see them that stand in the shadowy darkness. The rich man saw Lazarus standing in the bosom of Abraham, and thus his own torment was more acutely felt. In his ignorance, severely parched, the rich man raises this prayer to Abraham: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. Though these words were enough to move Abraham to compassion, they were of no benefit to the rich man, because his prayer came too late.
See how suffering has humbled him, how distress has chastened him! From afar off he now calls for him whom he ignored when he was near; he would often go in and out of his house without looking at him, but now he sees him clearly from far away. He asks for but a drop of water, whereas he did not give so much as a cup of cold water to a thirsty man.
And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented.
Here we are given to understand the kindness of that blessed patriarch, Father Abraham. Even here he does not reproach or insult the rich man. Instead, he calls him “son.” “Trouble not the soul that hath been humbled,” said Solomon most wise; “it is enough that he languishes in torment.”
Thus, he calls him son, and says, Remember that thou didst receive good things, that is, those things which thou didst consider to be good; for the rich man in life called earthly pleasures good things. And Lazarus likewise evil things, in other words, such things which in thine opinion were considered evils.
Now both of you have come forth as if naked. Lazarus has been stripped of sins, while thou art divested of any righteousness. For this reason, he is comforted, while thou art exposed to pain and suffering.
And beside all the things which I have already said, said Abraham, each of you has met an appropriate end. It is not simply a gulf that lies between us and you, but a great gulf. Just as there is a great difference between virtue and vice, and the choices made by those who practice virtue and those who love vice are poles apart, so their dwelling places are also far apart; everyone receives a recompense commensurate with his life and his choices, and the distance between them cannot be bridged.
In the very beginning of creation man’s life had but one character; that is, it looked to the good alone, and had no connexion with evil. Witness God’s first commandment, which bade Adam to eat of every tree in paradise, but restrained and prohibited him from eating of the one which was composed of contraries; that is to say, it was a mixture of good and evil; and He made death the penalty for transgressing this commandment.
Yet even when man freely chose a life that was a mixture of contraries over one that was unmixed with evil, God did not leave him without a corrective. Though death ensued for the transgressor, God divided life into two parts, namely, the present life of the flesh, and that which is hereafter; and they are unequal in length. He limited this life to a certain short span of time, while He prolonged the future life into eternity. In His love for man He gave him the power to choose one or the other of these two things, good or evil, either in this brief and transitory life, or in that unending and everlasting life.
Those whose reasoning powers are uncultivated, and who do not look for something better, soon use up in this fleshly life the entire dividend of good which their constitution can claim, reserving none of it for that life which comes afterwards. As for those who order their lives with prudent reason, their senses may suffer affliction here, but they keep their good for the age to come, when they have entered into rest, so that their good things extend to everlasting life and greater repose.
This, then, is the gulf: one made not by cleaving the earth, but by those decisions in this life which result in a separation into opposite characters. The one who has once chosen senseless pleasure in this life, and who has not cured his mindlessness by repentance, places the land of the angels beyond his own reach and impossible to pass to, just as if he had dug himself a bottomless and inescapable pit.
Behold, then my friends, how through punishment the rich man comes to his senses. He who formerly ignored Lazarus when he lay at his gate perishing from hunger, now feels concern for others who are far away. He begs that Lazarus be sent from the dead to the house of his father; he does not ask simply for anyone from among the dead, but for Lazarus, that they who saw him sick and despised might now see him healthy and wearing a crown of glory; that they who were witnesses of his destitution might be made beholders of his splendour.
What does Abraham answer? They have Moses and the prophets, he said. By Moses and the prophets he means the writings and teachings of all the prophets. These are sufficient instruction for them to avoid evil and to do good. Nothing so profits us as careful searching and study of the Scriptures, for the Scriptures are a lamp and a light; and where they shine, the thief of sin is exposed and caught.
Let us flee, then, my friends, from any resemblance to the rich man, and let us despise his inhumanity; but let us love and imitate the wisdom and patience of Lazarus.
God does not desire us to be lost. He forewarns us, that we may be chastened by the prophecy and avoid the experience of its reality. Let us now sober up, my friends, and while there is time for repentance, let us wash away sin. Let us not prefer the wide and spacious path of vice to the straight and narrow way of virtue. Though the path of vice be broad and easy, it comes to a narrow ending; it leads to the loss of one’s soul.
On the other hand, the narrow way of virtue leads to a wide open place, where it finishes, providing for great rest afterwards; let us not, then, be deceived by beginnings. Let us, rather, look to the end of both paths, and come to love virtue. Even if it should happen that we fall into great tribulations, let us not grow lazy, but let us bear all things bravely, being strengthened by the hope and promise of the good things to come, and being assured that when we encounter tribulations, God forgives our transgressions, if we endure everything with gratitude towards Him; that, having been thus purified and having put aside all wickedness, we may receive a pure and undefiled reward of good things. If, then, we wish to be counted worthy of these good things, let us not waver in our trials, that we may draw down divine assistance upon ourselves, and may come to eternal rest in Christ Jesus our Lord.