04 November 2013
Homily on the Rich Man and Lazarus
It wasn’t like he didn’t remember the name. In Hades, being in torment, the rich man cried out, “Father Abraham, send Lazarus to dip his finger in the water and cool my tongue.” If, during his life of leisure he had been summoned to a police station, he could have picked out Lazarus from a lineup.
The problem was, though he remembered the name, he didn’t remember Lazarus himself, when it counted. There lay the poor man at his gate, hungry, outranked not just by the rich man himself but by the rich man’s dogs—they, at least, got what fell from the table. But the poor man got nothing but the dogs’ mercy. They, at least, saw his wounds; they, at least, helped him the only way they knew, by licking his wounds.
Why do you suppose the rich man forgot Lazarus? I think it was because he was buried already when he was alive. Elsewhere the Lord speaks of seed that gets choked by the cares and pleasures of life. Well, this rich man was buried by the things he had: covered by fine clothes, good food, a wonderful house, servants, pets—all those things he had, really had him. His mind was preoccupied with them. So it had no space for Lazarus. He couldn’t see the needs of his neighbor. He simply forgot.
So Abraham says to him, Son, remember. Remember the good things you enjoyed in life. That was then. This is now.
I have a sneaking suspicion that during his earthly days, the rich man didn’t think of all his fine clothing, and food, and all as good things. I think he probably experienced them as burdens, not as joys. He worked to gain them. He worried about losing them. And after a while, all the so-called “finer things” in life aren’t so fine. If you saw the movie “Citizen Kane,” you’ll remember the rich man’s last word was “Rosebud.” Everyone tried to figure out what that word meant; it was the name of the sled he had enjoyed when he was a child.
I think that about the rich man, because that’s how I treat so many of the things I’ve gotten, over the years. They’re not fun. They’re just more to take care of, more to protect, more to worry about. If I’m not careful, I can grow attached to things instead of to my neighbor. How easy to forget…how hard to remember!
And when I care for things more than I care for people, brick by brick I build a wall, shovel by shovel I dig a gulf and cut myself off. Note what Abraham tells him: “Those who would pass from here to you may not; and no one can pass from you to here.” Nothing traps us, nothing cuts us off more effectively from God and each other than our own passions and desires.
If we are to escape the rich man’s fate, beloved, we must remember, while there is still time. “Your life is given you for repentance,” says St. Isaac the Syrian, “do not waste it in vain pursuits.” And St. James says, “True religion and undefiled before God the Father is this: to remember the widows and orphans in their affliction, and to keep ourselves unstained by the world.” Now, while we are in the flesh, is the time to repent, to return, to remember.
For God, in his mercy, has not forgotten us. In Exodus 2, it says, “Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.” The rest of Exodus shows what that remembering means. God sent Moses, who freed them from bondage and made them a people fit for God. God’s delivering Israel, foreshadowed his great remembering, when he took on flesh for us in the Virgin’s womb, and served, and shared, and suffered.
While Christ suffered, on the cursed tree, the wise thief cried out, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your Kingdom.” He was assured, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” In Isaiah God says, “I will not forget you; you are engraved on the palms of my hands”—powerful words when we remember they come from one who is crucified for us and alive again.
In this time and space, God remembers us. Let us call on him. Let us bring him our cries and our tears for all the ways we have forgotten him and our neighbor. Let us relax our grip on things, and on passions, so that we may receive him as he comes to us in his body and blood.
“Do this in remembrance of me,” he says in a few moments, and by that he doesn’t mean “Think of long ago and far away,” but rather, “Here I am, as I promised. Remember whose flesh and blood you receive, and for what purpose.” Remember. Remember. Remember.