22nd Sunday after Pentecost
The Gospel for this Sunday tells us the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Our Lord tells us of a certain rich man who had every luxury and whose table was overflowing with feasts every day. At the same time, there was a poor and sickly beggar named Lazarus, who sat in misery at the gates of the rich man’s house in hope of some small scrap from the rich man’s bounty.
Both men soon died… Lazarus was taken up to heaven, to the bosom of Abraham, and the rich man found himself in the torments of hell. After such a life of importance and wealth, the rich man takes nothing of his luxuries beyond the grave and we are not even told nor remember his name. The rich man was permitted to see the reward of Lazarus and called out to Abraham that Lazarus might be permitted to come and offer him some small consolation in his suffering. But the rich man was reminded that during his earthly life he had his reward and consolations and Lazarus had nothing and was shown no mercy. Now in the afterlife the rich man found himself in torment while Lazarus was comforted. And, it is added, between the place of the rich man and the place of Lazarus there was a ‘great gulf’ such that none could pass from one place to another.
So the rich man begged that Lazarus might go to his earthly relatives to forewarn them of the realities of the spiritual life and the life beyond the grave. But Abraham rebuked him saying that they have Moses and the prophets, yet they do not heed the word of God. The rich man emphasizes that if someone were to miraculously return from the dead, that then the worldly-minded would awaken and hear God’s word. Abraham replies, that even if one were to rise from the dead, they would not be persuaded to change their ways.
Abraham was, of course, correct in his assessment that ‘even if one were to rise from the dead, people would not be persuaded to change their ways.’ Don’t we see this in our world today? Jesus Christ, our God incarnate, rose from the tomb. This is not a ‘Christian myth’, it is a historical fact that is widely documented not just by those Gospel writers whose lives were indeed changed, but by secular and Jewish historians of the time as well. The world of the first century was abuzz with this news of the miracles of Jesus Christ and of His reappearing after His death. And we can certainly see the evidence of the impact of the risen Christ in the lives of those few throughout the centuries who were persuaded and awakened to hear God’s word.
But what about the rest of us? What do we see as we look back through history and as we look at the world around us today? Even though One has arisen from the dead, the worldly-minded continue to go about their ways – seeking self-glory, worshipping youth and fleshly beauty, lusting with ambition, and delighting in worldly comforts and amusements. When obstacles get in the way of these pursuits, all hell breaks loose with the passions of frustration and anger or with depression and disappointment.
We have to turn this examination of the worldly-minded upon ourselves, first of all. Where do our hearts lie and what is our outlook on this life? It is too often the case that those of us who call ourselves Orthodox Christians take on this same worldly-minded outlook on life. We allow ourselves to be seduced into a kind of near-sightedness that becomes blind to the eternal realities of our existence. We become preoccupied with the things of this world: money, ambition, luxuries, success, sensuality, and comforts. We react to the circumstances of our earthly life as if this is all there is, and when trials and obstacles get in the way of our pursuit of these worldly ambitions, we fall prey to the demons of irritability, frustration, and the rest.
Brothers and sisters in Christ… May God forbid that we find ourselves in the position of the rich man in today’s Gospel. He lived his life on earth as if he were asleep to the realities of eternity. It was only when he died that he woke up and realized that all of these ambitions and accomplishments were worthless if they meant that he forfeited his soul.
It is often heard from the worldly-minded that those who are concerned with spiritual things are unrealistic, they’re dreamers. Let us challenge that assertion! If we just stop for a moment and take a look at the reality of the span of our lives… this earthly life may last 80 years or so – what is that in the face of eternity? This earthly life is truly nothing more than a blink of an eye. What is more practical… to bury your head in the sand living like this world is all we’ve got or to prepare yourself for eternity? We have been created for eternity and we are going to spend eternity in the presence of God. What is that going to be like for us? This earthly life is the time for us to be healed of that fallen nature that estranges us from God. Our hearts and souls must become aflame with the love of God – because we’re going to spend our eternity in the presence of that burning love. Will we approach the Divine Fire of the throne of God as a flame or as dead and heartless kindling to be burned? Who’s the dreamer… the person who only lives for this life or the one who lives this life in the context of eternity?
How will our life change and what will our life look like if we’re living it in the eyes of eternity? Will we make time for prayer? Will we make time for spiritual reading? How important is it that we get our way in the petty disagreements that come up in our family life? Which is more important to us – that we prove that we are right or that we guard the peace and goodwill of our soul?
My dear friends… we have the testimony of One Who has risen from the dead. We have the possibility and the promise of One Who has triumphed over death and Who has opened the gates of paradise. Let us do everything we can to assure that we respond and awaken ourselves to the reality and the glorious promise of the eternity which God has prepared for those who love Him. The time for our repentance and healing is now, during this brief earthly life. As the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians: ‘See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time.’