“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
It can be, at times, difficult to discern the direction that God wants us to take. There can just be so much noise and distraction around us as we struggle to understand, looking for His cause and purpose in our lives. It can make it easy, perhaps the easiest thing in the world to stray from the path of His righteousness, seeking our own comfort and ease, seeking that path of least resistance as we find ourselves blinded by the world around us. We ignore perhaps one aspect of the Word of God; we compromise on one aspect of our principles; and it makes it simpler and simpler to compromise on another or ignore another, until finally we find ourselves no longer living for God or His Word. We find ourselves living squarely outside of it.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus isn’t a story of a bad man. As I’ve said again and again, we just don’t know enough about him to make that assessment. He recognized Abraham, he saw him as a father, and it was expected, if Abraham’s responses to him were any indication, to know the words of Moses and the Prophets. He was, from any guess we could make, to be counted amongst the Children of Israel. Yet, as I also said, his life appeared to be a life of idle luxury, and selfish desires. It was one that looked on the suffering and the sorrow of his fellow man with contempt, ignoring their struggles even as he clothed himself in the extravagances and feasted on his own indulgences. We see a man who turned a blind eye to the poor and the pained, and, in that, turned his back to His God.
That’s the challenge of the story. We are all given the Scriptures, we are all shown the path to love and to life, to hope in the Spirit. Everything is laid out there in front of us in the love that God has for us. Because of it, through the power of His Holy Spirit, we are led to a better life of love, hope, compassion and charity. Yet it runs contrary to our human nature, to our old flesh that wants, so desperately, to live for ourselves. It’s the same nature that tells us to do what we want, to live for ourselves. It’s the same nature that tells us nothing else matters because I did it the way I wanted to, and that’s what matters. It’s the nature that looks to other people to take responsibility from us, to take on the challenges we face as an individual, a people and a society for us so all we need to worry about it ourselves. It can be a hard thing to overcome. The truth is that, in this life, we will never fully overcome it, we will never fully be able to put it completely behind us.
Still, that doesn’t mean that we should ever stop trying. Though we may never truly be able to conquer our human nature, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) In His righteousness and His love He calls us to do more and to be more. Grafting us to the Tree of Life, through His Spirit we produce His fruits because we are now rooted in Him. This is where our power comes from, this is where our calling comes from as we overcome in the boundless hope and mercy that called us even when we were lost amidst the darkness of this world, blinded from the truth. We are more than conquerors because, in that conquest, we are called to be liberators in the wonders of His blessings, just as we, ourselves, we liberated. What that also reminds us of though is that as we cease to produce His fruits, when we cease to offer ourselves as our Heavenly Father has called us to do, we cease to live, being dead on the tree, and ready to be removed. (Romans 11:11-31) After all, in those moments we become just as the wicked and ungrateful servant that Christ warned us about, begging for mercy, demanding it, even as we believe we are entitled to it, but unwilling to show it to any others. (Matthew 18:21-35)
When it comes down to it we may be, in our nature, the Rich Man, selfish, inward seeking, prone to our own wants and desires, but when it comes right down to it, when we come to our Lord, when we come to our Savior, when it comes to our salvation, we are all Lazarus, wretched and lost beggar, poor and scarred from the sins that have taken hold of us, longing for the scraps of Christ’s righteousness, the scraps of God’s goodness. Blessedly for us, we are not treated as Lazarus was by a God who could just as easily ignore us. Blessedly for us we are not treated as Lazarus was by a Savior who didn’t need to sacrifice himself, subjecting himself to brutal torture and humiliation. Looking upon us in such poor estate, lost to sin and sorrow, looking upon us as we live as the lowest beggar, we were, in mercy and compassion, raised up to become heirs of God the King, sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, washed clean in the precious blood of the lamb.
Oh what a precious miracle that is for each and every one of us sinful people so prone to our weak and feeble nature.
And this is how we, as imitators of God, following that perfect example of Christ, are called to act. We are to look with compassion, to speak with charity and to act in love, giving freely of ourselves, thinking less about our own selfish wants and desires and more about how we can raise and uplift, how we can edify all of those around us.
Life isn’t about what we can get out of it dear brothers and sisters, it’s about what we put into it. In faith, we are called to be more than we are as God uses His Word to reveal His will to us. We are then meant to cast aside our baser human nature as we look beyond ourselves, letting the love of Christ pour forth from our hearts and souls. We are meant to give freely and to act in love, to open our eyes to a wider world than our own narrow, small corner of it and be moved to uplift and edify those around us. We are meant to help the sick, to offer to the poor, to stand up for the weak and be a voice for the voiceless, we are called to act selflessly and with mercy. Yes, this may mean that we have to sacrifice of ourselves, it may mean we have to put others before ourselves, giving freely even when it is difficult, or runs against our interests, but it is for a higher purpose and a higher calling, as we let our faith shine through us with the light and love of Christ Jesus, our Savior.
We have Moses and the Prophets, we have Christ and the Apostles, we have the lives and deaths of those who have come before us, bound in faith, guided by God as they gave themselves in the deeper calling of our Lord. We have witnessed their lives, we have heard their testimonies, we have seen the depth of their devotion. That is everything. It is everything we could possibly need, and, because of it, we have every example that we need to instruct us, guide us and lead us to the people we are supposed to be. We need just take hold of the Word and let it guide us in all that we are and all that we do. Yes, at times, we are going to still miss the mark, we are still going to fall short of the glory of God. Yes, at times, we are going to find that our old nature is still going to gnaw at us, trying to pull us back in. Yet, the more we give, the more we offer of ourselves, the more we recognize that this is who and what God is calling us to be, the easier it is to put that aside in the realization that we are called to live in His Spirit and that is a greater, more wondrous nature than anything of or in this world.
Lord, grant this unto us all.
Now may the peace of the Lord, that peace that surpasses all human knowledge, understanding and wisdom, keep your hearts and minds, spirits and souls in Christ Jesus even unto life everlasting. Amen.