The Parable of Lazarus
Lazarus lay at the gate every day. The rich man could not excuse himself for not knowing about Lazarus’ condition, for he passed by him daily.
St. John Chrysostom says that if we do not see God in the beggar at the gate, we will not be able to see Him in the Chalice.
The rich man is revealed as lower than the dogs — the dogs at least showed mercy to Lazarus in the way they knew how to show mercy. The rich man shows that his soul is warped, and ugly.
St. Augustine notes that because of the rich man’s neglect of Lazarus, he is not named in this story, for his name is not written in the book of Life. Lazarus’ name IS written. Lazarus means “one who has been helped.”
So where does Abraham fit in this story? Abraham is the first one who was called to leave his citizenship, his city, and all the stability and comfort he had known to follow God in faith. * He became a despised Habiru, a citizenless man, not protected by the rights of being a citizen of a land — and through that became the father of a nation that would prepare the world to receive God in the flesh. This is the comfort that Lazarus finds himself in.
And Abraham, through his journey, acquired much wealth; yet it was not for the sake of the wealth that he kept it; he did not hold his wealth for its own sake, but for the journey that God had called him to. This rich man had wealth also. But he held his wealth in greed, and neglect of his fellow man. Abraham, who prayed mercy for the wicked, showed mercy to the poor and hospitality to the stranger could not help this rich man.
Even in death we see how this man’s soul has shown itself to be ugly; his first thought is for his own comfort, and relief of his pain; and he, even now, treats Lazarus like an errand boy.
St. Ephraim the Syrian observes that this fire that torments the rich man in death is a fire from within himself.
By his life, he neglected the afflicted, the poor, the alien, the foreigner. These are the very ones Moses and the prophets instructed us to be merciful to. By his life, he mocked Moses and the prophets.
Jesus points the story even further, if we will not listen to Moses and the prophets and have mercy on the poor, the afflicted, the homeless, the hungry, that His own Death and Resurrection are meaningless to us.
Who are the people outside the gates for us today?
We live in a society that punishes the poor, that does its best to keep them in poverty and them blame them for it. We do our best to excuse ourselves from our duty to them. We say, “it’s MY money; I earned it; you should not compel me to help them.” We justify to ourselves why it is ok to neglect the poor.
We have in our community the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the afflicted. If we do nothing to help them we share in this rich man’s mocking of Moses and the prophets. Again St. John Chrysostom warns us: “If we do not find Christ in these, we will not find Him in the Chalice.”
And, there is another one who sits outside the gate whom we continue to neglect. That one is ourselves.
In the last week of the 40 days of Great Lent the hymns give us meditation on this parable.
We are told that we are the one whom we neglect at the gate.
Joseph the Studite writes the stichera for Monday vespers of the 6th week of Lent:
I have rivaled in foolishness the rich man who showed no love for others; overwhelmed by sensual pleasures and the passions, I live in luxury and self-indulgence. I see my mind, O Lord, lying always like Lazarus before the gates of repentance, but with indifference I pass it by, and leave it hungry, sick and wounded by the passions. Therefore I deserve to be condemned to the flames of Gehenna: but deliver me from them, O Master, for Thou alone art rich in mercy.
(Joseph the Studite – Monday vespers of the 6th week)
We neglect ourselves not only in lack of mercy to others, but also in lack of mercy to ourselves. We starve ourselves from prayer, reading of scripture, and giving alms. We neglect that part of us that “GETS” God most readily, our spiritual mind.
So, let us feed the hungry and show mercy to the poor; and let us also feed ourselves on the riches that God has passed on to us through the Church.