When we encounter parables like the one in this Gospel, I think we too often enter a state of “intellectual gridlock” as we let our minds interpret the words we hear. When we hear the parable, we are led to think, “Rich man bad—poor man good,” and we go no further. In so doing, we ascribe the concept of “evil” to the one, and “angelic” to the other, not allowing ourselves to probe more deeply.
If we take the time to ponder the parable further we may begin to question whether the rich man was without virtue, or whether Lazarus was without fault. But this is the beauty of teaching via parable—the conditions are of a “story” that uplifts the virtue and exposes the failings.
Think of Lazarus as being you or me, driven to the point of desperation such that we lay with open wounds at the gate of one who has the means to give us some degree of comfort, even if only “crumbs”. What thoughts would go thru our minds?
It doesn’t take long to conclude that we would fall into sin, giving into the temptations associated with our condition. We would curse the dogs who come to feed upon our sores. We would lay in judgment of the rich man who refuses to look upon us as he enters his gates.
But these are not conditions we find inside the Lord’s description of poor Lazarus. He lay in hope of mercy—only! He takes nothing for granted, he sees the opulence within the gates, but does not covet what lay there, desiring it for his own. He knows himself to be a beggar. And as such, he will receive with thanksgiving anything that might come to him from a benefactor. And we might expect that if nothing comes his way, he would be content
What does this say to us as a people? Can we not see that we too are beggars? We may not live with open sores all over our bodies. We may not have to beat off the animals who desire to consume our flesh once we succumb to ills that are consuming us. But every good thing we have in this life is given us by our Benefactor. The talents to work at a profession—those are God-given. The holding of a job that provides an income, so that we might have a roof over our heads, enough to buy food and clothes, and to provide for our basic needs, those too are God-given.
And what of the excess? What of the things God still gives beyond what we “need”? Do we keep those things behind our own locked gates, never to be shared with another who may also be in need? St. John Chrysostom writes, “The ship of the rich man was laden with merchandise, and sailed with a fair wind.” In short, God had sent him many earthly blessings, too many to be required to serve his own needs. “But do not marvel, for it was borne on to shipwreck, since he was not willing to bestow its burden wisely.”
St. John goes on to reference Amos 6:3, “Woe to those who are approaching the evil day, who draw near and hold false sabbaths.” The reference is pointed toward making offerings to ourselves, and not to God. With respect to the same passage, St. Basil writes, “It is shameful to spend our time running about searching for anything not demanded by real necessity, but calculated to provide a wretched delight and ruinous vainglory.”
This is the legacy of the rich man, a man described in less than 200 words in only this one place in all of Holy Scripture. From these few words we reconstruct a life spent in self-serving, giving no thought to the ability to serve the need of another, even just one other!
Earlier we put on the mantle of Lazarus. Now, do so as the rich man. For we have all of his earthly blessings.
Will we find our path to conforming our hearts to God’s will before He calls us to take that last breath? Or will we find ourselves in that eternal torment? Sooner or later, we are all beggars. Better sooner!