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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The Emperor Marcus Aurelius once wrote: “Don’t behave like someone that has ten thousand years to live; death is near, even at hand: while you live, while you have time, become good” (Meditations. iv. 17.)
St. Augustine of Hippo says: "Live well, that you may not die ill" (Sermon LII).
Our All-Good and All-loving Lord provides all means necessary for us to attain the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life. Did you know that? He does! He gives us all the tools we need, all the weapons we need, all the instruction we require, all the maps and travel books we would like. He even provides us with guides, escorts, spiritual sherpas for our journey. What more could we ask? He knows each and every traveler from their mother’s womb. We should never accept the thought, the idea, the notion provided by Satan, that our God somehow likes to put us through impossible tests; that He sets us up to fail; that He somehow derives some twisted pleasure in watching us squirm and suffer in our efforts to be saved. But actually, the very opposite is true. St John Chrysostom says, “God loves us more than a father, mother, friend, or anyone else could love, and even more than we are able to love ourselves.” And the Holy Apostle Peter says: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, through His divine power, has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3). So God only loves us and only gives to us what which will aid in our salvation.
So what did God give to Lazarus? According to the holy fathers, God provided the gate outside of the rich man’s estate to be his stairway to heaven. God placed him there, and he stayed there. His poverty alone, or his sickness alone were not enough to grant him a place in the bosom of Abraham. But he knew that. The Gospel says that he only desired the crumbs, he wasn’t looking to deprive the rich man of anything. He didn't resent the rich man; he didn't denounce him or rail against him. He didn't storm his residence and demand anything. He simply waited, trusting in God. And what was his reward? He was carried to heaven by God's angels.
And what did the Lord give to the rich man? Lazarus. He gave him Lazarus. But the unnamed rich man could only see himself. He could only focus on his own self-indulgence, his self-centeredness, his pleasure-loving life that blinded him to anyone or anything else. He KNEW poor Lazarus, he even knew his name, but he does not SEE him. What did we learn from St Paul in this morning’s Epistle reading? We learned that he had been a really bad guy. He had been persecuting Christians. He participated in the posse that eventually resulted in the killing, the martyrdom of St Stephen. He hated Christ. He despised Christ. What brought about the change in Paul? He finally SAW Christ. God made it possible, on the road to Damascus. Paul SAW Christ, and was changed forever, becoming a chief Apostle, the Apostle to the Gentiles. But this rich man, he doesn’t see Lazarus, even though he passes by him every day. He is clueless as to his desperate need, his poverty, his hunger, his terrible sickness. The rich man lived his life as if he thought he would live for ten thousand years. He would have done better to meditate on these words from the Orthodox funeral service: “Let us go forth, and gaze into the tombs: man is naked bones, food for the worms, and stench; and we shall learn what are riches, and beauty, and strength.” You see, the rich man had forgotten something very fundamental. He forgot who he was! He forgot that he is a descendant of Abraham. And what do we know about Abraham? Genesis says that Abraham was very wealthy (Genesis 13:2; 24:35.) Abraham was a rich man, but unlike the rich man in the parable, Moses tells us that he was exceedingly generous, exceedingly charitable, hospitable to anyone passing by his dwelling, even running after them to offer them food and drink (Genesis 18). The whole story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining the three angels, is a story about generous hospitality. Abraham understood that none of his wealth truly belonged to him. It belonged to God. And because it belonged to God, it also belonged to all of God’s children.
May God grant to each of us the generous heart of Abraham, the non-judgmental and patient faith of Lazarus, and the Spirit-guided discernment to know how to live well, and also how to die well. Amen.