In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day.”
It is the teaching of the Gospel and the Tradition of the Orthodox Church, that one of the most difficult passions for human beings to overcome is the enslavement to “possessions.” As an example, we have Christ’s encounter with the rich young ruler, where Jesus says to him: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19: 16-30.)
So, we have this rich man. And then there’s Lazarus. The poorest of the poor—a beggar. Lazarus sat at the gate of the rich man's home, his estate. He is so destitute that even the dogs had compassion on him and came to lick his sores. The rich man is bound to his possessions. His possessions possess him like demons! He is so possessed, that he refuses to spare even the crumbs from his table to feed the poor man at his gate. Lazarus was so poor that he dreamed about those crumbs, those scraps from the rich man’s table. Crumbs the rich man refused to give. And so, they both die—Lazarus is carried off by angels and rewarded with eternal life in the kingdom, and the rich man is punished in burning Gehenna. So, what do we learn from this parable? What’s Christ teaching here? There’s no particular virtue in being poor, and there’s no particular vice in being rich. The Scriptures DO tell us that the love of money is the root of all evil, not the money itself, the LOVE of the money, the passion for the money, the enslavement to the money. The virtue, or the vice, lies in what we do with our money, our possessions. The virtue or the vice, that's about what's in our heart. From a human perspective, Lazarus lives a life that’s less than human. He waits in patience, not grumbling, not complaining. He trusts in God. This is what it is to be a true human being. From God’s perspective, it is the rich man who is living like a sub-human. He’s living a life that's even lower than animals—note how even his own dogs have pity on Lazarus! He’s the one living a life contrary to nature. He is so INHUMAN, that Christ doesn’t even give him a name in the parable—the rich man has rejected his humanity. Bishop Michael of New York once said that Lazarus was given by God to the rich man so that he would have the opportunity to share his riches. And the rich man, likewise, was given to Lazarus to care for his earthly needs. But the rich man rejects his salvation.
So, why is the poor man, Lazarus, the model that Christ sets before us? Because we need to break the bonds of avarice, the bonds of miserliness, the bonds of greed, the bonds of possessions. We need to break the addiction to our “stuff.” We need to understand that Lazarus represents Christ. Why? He has nothing. What did Jesus say of Himself? “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20.) Where was Lazarus laying his head? Outside, at the gate of the rich man. Lazarus suffers terrible bodily pain and is covered with wounds. Who was wounded for us? Who suffered for us? It is Christ.
So, Christ teaches us to be liberal in our giving. He tells us to bring our tithes to the temple, even more liberally than the pharisees did. He tells us to give to the poor. Why? Because our giving is for our salvation. Our giving frees us from bondage to possessions. And we are to see in this giving, that inasmuch as we are giving to the church and to the poor, we are giving it to Him.
St. John Chrysostom says this to us: “If your riches are to be collected, don’t hoard them yourself, for you will surely lose them. But entrust them to God, for no one can touch them. Don’t try to be your own manager of your riches, for you don’t really know what you are doing. Rather, lend to Him Who gives an interest greater than the principal. Lend [to heaven] where there is no envy, no accusation, no behind-the-scenes plots, and nothing to fear. Lend to Him who has no needs, but for your sake became poor: he feeds all, yet is hungry, who is poor that you may be rich” (Homilies on Matthew 5.8; PG 58, 61). Amen.