"I will not make mention of their names with my lips"; and, you've already had your warning.
2 Cor. 11:31-12:9; Luke 16:19-31.*
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, known as The Fifth Sunday of Luke.
The Fifth Sunday after the Holy Cross; also, the Holy Apostle James, the Brother of God.
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12:22 PM 10/23/2011 ó The Gospel Book from which I read uses what is probably the most common translation of the Scriptures in use in our country, called the New American Bible. As you know, there are a plethora of translations of the Bible into English; some are better than others. The New American Bible makes an attempt to translate the Scriptures into common American English, which is fine; but every once in a while you come across a subtlety in the original Greek or Hebrew which is lost in the attempt. Case in point: the opening verse of this passage we just heard, the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. What we heard was that the a rich man had a certain beggar laying at his gate. What it actually says, in fact, is ďa certain beggar...was laid at his gate,Ē which implies that the beggar didnít just show up one day; somebody put him there, the implication being that the Somebody was God, who puts him there for very specific purpose, as we shall see; and there was nothing the rich man could do about it; which, when you think about it, adds a whole new dynamic to the meaning of the passage.
The rich man, like most rich people, has used his wealth to isolate himself from what is ugly in the world around him, as rich people often do. But it doesnít work, because the beggar, Lazarus, is ďlaid at his gate,Ē as our Lord puts it. Which puts the rich man in an awkward position; because, now, in order to continue to isolate himself, he has to pretend that Lazarus isnít there;óhe has to literally step over him whenever he walks into his houseóhe has to ignore him, which he does, for which he ends up paying the penalty by being sent to hell.
Now, there are two points that are worth noticing here: first, the obvious fact that the rich manís retribution, and consequently Lazarusí reward, do not come in this life; they come in the next, when Lazarus is sent to heaven and the Rich Man goes to hell. Itís an important point to keep in mind, especially when we run into people who are having a hard time and who say, ďI lived a good life; why is God letting this happen?Ē They are forgetting that reward and punishment do not happen here. The Rich Man is very remorseful for how heís lived and for ignoring the beggar at his gate; but by that time itís too late: any opportunity he may have had to change his life is gone. And there occurs a very interestingóand also soberingóexchange between them. The Rich Man, in the fires of hell, realizing that thereís now no way out of his predicament, asks Abraham to allow Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool the Rich Manís tongue. Itís an exact reversal of what was going on before they both died, when Lazarus was begging for a scrap from the Rich Manís table. But it isnít to be, as Abraham explains to the Rich Man that there is no communication between heaven and hell: Lazarus canít reach across the gulf to cool the Rich Manís tongue; the judgment made against him at the time of his death is final.
But whatís really remarkableóto me, anywayóis that, having had this explained to him, the Rich Man lapses into a fit of charity: in the midst of this unbearable torment, brought on, of course, by his own neglect, the Rich Man wants to spare his brothers, who are also rich, from the same fate. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to them, so they can be warned to change their ways before itís too late. It seemsóon the surface, anywayóto be an extremely magnanimous gesture; and it occurs to us, I think, that Abraham should look favorably on such a request. After all, itís probably the first time in this Rich Manís existence that heís thought of the needs of others rather than his own. But Abraham rejects the idea. He tells the Rich Man that, even for his brothers, itís too late. And the reason we should find that so sobering is because his brothers are not yet dead. Presumably they still have a chance to change their ways; but they are not to be permitted this warning.
It seems so unfair, but then Abraham explains why: they have Moses, they have the prophets, they have the Scriptures; they need nothing else. Everything they need to learn what they must do to be saved has already been provided. If they choose not to heed it, it is their own choice and their own fault. Itís a hard position for Abraham to take, but itís a just position, and one we have to listen to.
Why were the writings of Moses and the Prophets not enough to teach these men how to live in order to be saved? Well, one reason may be because, even by our Lordís time, the books of Moses and the Prophets in the Old Testament were already a thousand years old. Everyone was familiar with them; they were read regularly as part of the synagogue service, and maybe that was the problem. They had become ritualized. Just like the Holy Gospel is for us. Father dresses up in pretty clothes, and chants the words of our Divine Savior, and we sing in response; but how often do we pause to listen to what is being sung to hear what those words are trying to tell us? Itís not as if the gospels are written in some kind of peculiar code which we need a priest to decipher. Our Lordís lessons in these parables are too often painfully clear. Itís just that we donít listen. Just like the Rich Man didnít listen, just like his bothers didnít listen...until it was too late. And then we run the risk of having one of those ďhead-slappingĒ moments wherein we say, ďOh, you mean I was supposed to actually apply that to my own life?! Who would have thought?Ē
There is a second point about this parable, as I said, to which I would draw your attention; and itís a point thatís made by St. Cyril of Alexandria in his commentary on Lukeís Gospel. He points out the fact that the Rich Man is never named by Jesus in the parable, he simply calls him ďa Rich ManĒ; but the poor man he mentions by name. Why? Because the Rich Man, lacking in compassion and being totally unconcerned about the state of his soul, was nameless in Godís presence. And then he quotes Psalm 15, verse 4, in which God says, concerning those who do not fear him, ďI will not make mention of their names with My Lips.Ē Itís a chilling statement about the harshness and finality of Godís judgment.**
It is so easy for us, Sunday after Sunday, to come to church, sing the songs, say the prayers and go home to all the other ďimportantĒ things that occupy our lives, having fulfilled our obligation to go to church for another week. If itís going to be more than that, as I think we all agree it should be, then thatís an adjustment that has to be made by each one of us in our own hearts. Itís not up the priest to inspire us, although if we have a priest that does that for us itís helpful; but ultimately itís up to each one of us to decide what weíre doing when weíre here: what weíre thinking about, what weíre praying about, whether we are truly listening to whatís being sung and said and examining our lives in light of it. No one is responsible for doing that for us. As Cardinal Newman once said, ďI can no more think with thoughts not my own than I can breath with lungs not my own, nor can I pray with words not my own.Ē Everything that we need to be inspired and consoled, to be sanctified and saved has been provided to us by Christ through his Church. What we do with it is entirely up to us.
Father Michael Venditti
* Due to the "Lucan Jump," the Gospel read today is that for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. Cf. the note appended to the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
** Following the Divine Liturgy, a parishioner asked me, "How does the doctrine of Purgatory fit into this Gospel passage?" The answer is: it doesn't. This doesn't mean that the doctrine of Purgatory isn't true; but that it's not to the point of what our Lord is attempting to teach with this parable. The doctrine of purgation after death from the temporal punishment due to our sins is easily elucidated from other passages found throughout both the Old and New Testaments. It's a good example of the necessity of avoiding the mistake of the Protestants in regarding each verse of Holy Writ as some dogmatic statement of Christian doctrine in and of itself, or of using isolated verses as "proof texts" to discredit what is clearly found throughout the whole of Divine Revelation.