[The TOPIC for this homily is taken from the text of the Gosepl for the 5th Week of Luke (16:19-31), the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. It is somewhat fortuitous that on this Saturday we celebrate another 'Soul Saturday' Divine Liturgy, remembering the names of our loved ones departed this life.]
But now, thus says the Lord, Who created you, O Jacob, and He Who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.’ (Isa 43:1)
Names are important. “Hey, you!” is not a very pleasing way to be encountered by another person! In fact, sometimes we are offended if a person does not remember our name—it’s a hazard of the office of the priest! It makes people feel unimportant if we forget their name, even if totally unintentional.
Which brings us to today’s Gospel reading—Lazarus (by name) and ‘the rich man’ (whose name our Lord has forgotten).
Within that last statement is a wealth of teaching, of which we’ll only scratch the surface here. How did the rich man come to such a place as to alienate God so that his name would NOT be remembered by Him? The answer is quite simple, actually. He had a singular focus, and that focus was internal. Mine! All for one, and nothing for others. There was no room for the least of God's brethren, the average (and needy) people.
The need of poor Lazarus was so profoundly obvious that even the most callous onlooker could not help but be moved by it. And according to our Lord’s words in the parable, all Lazarus desired was the crumbs, the smallest of offerings to assuage his squalor would have meant worlds to him. But the rich man averted his eyes, and thereby hardened his heart, such that he showed no concern for the need of another human being. And in so doing, he alienated the Giver of Life, his Creator, depriving himself of a name that would be in God's eternal memory.
So, what words are left to use for us, and in this case, for our Lord, to call attention to such a man? A name, by our opening comments, offers a certain dignity, a recognition of the ‘person-hood’ of the one being named. Our Lord offers no such concession of dignity toward this—being. The only thing he is worthy of being called is that which he chose to define himself as. “The rich man.” And so, for all eternity he will be known not by his heart, not by his great intellect, not by his caring, not by his love, not by his Lord. He will only be remembered by his selfishness and ‘things’. We know from the parable only a few short details, all of which are contained in only one verse of today’s Gospel. He was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.
‘Purple’ defines his ability to afford only the best. Creating cloth that was colored purple was incredibly difficult and very expensive. Often in biblical use, purple is indicative of royalty. The Jewish Tabernacle was covered in purple (Ex 26:1), indicative of God’s royalty.
Similarly, linen carries a connection to righteousness. In ancient Jewish rituals, linen clothes were known as ‘the robe of light.’
And so this—person ‘put on’ things purchased so that he could appear royal and righteous. Neither of which were true, but he could ‘afford to buy’ what would give this appearance!
Lesson: You cannot buy righteousness!
There is more we could say about his dining sumptuously every day, especially from the Holy Fathers. Let’s leave that as a homework assignment to the reader!
Lazarus’ name is known! It is known to our Lord. It is known to the Father. It has come to be known to the Church—throughout all time. His memory truly is eternal.
Pray for the grace to have it so with us!