The Unmerciful Rich Men

The Gospel reading from the first Sunday of November was from Saint Luke (16.19–31) and was about the rich man, “who was clothed in purple and fine linen, feasting in luxury every day,” and poor Lazarus, who “was laid at his gate, full of sores, who desired to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table; moreover, even dogs came and licked his sores” (16.19–21). What we see here is a picture full of contrasts; our Savior purposely put it this way so that we may see the contrast between the two persons. It is the most contrasting picture you can have.

We all know this parable, and we heard many interpretations of it. We usually do not connect that well with this parable because we obviously are not that rich, we do not feast in luxury every day—that is obvious—so apparently there is no common thing between us and this rich man. We are also not as poor as Lazarus. So maybe we find it difficult to relate to this parable.

But we will try to bring in a new perspective from Saint Symeon the New Theologian. When he commented the parable of the final judgment (cf. Mt 25.31-46) he used a mystical language. As if Christ Himself were talking to the ones on the left hand, Saint Symeon says, “I hungered for your return and repentance, and you did not feed Me; I thirsted for your salvation, and you did not give Me to drink; I was in the confining, dirty, murky prison of your heart, and you did not want to seek Me and bring Me to light; you knew that I lay in the infirmity of your levity and idleness, and you did not serve Me with your good acts and deeds.”

There is this reality that we received the greatest gift, which is Christ—the Icon from Within (the title of our bulletin)—when we were baptized and now it is as if He were deep inside us, covered by the many things that are in our heart, usually evil things. Through every good deed, every prayer, every fasting, every repentance, we are supposed to dig deep inside us and get to Him and uncover Him from within us. For He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5.8). If we were to do this—that is, cleansing our hearts—we would see Him, we would uncover Him from within.

This interesting perspective that Saint Symeon brings forth is very generous in interpretations, including those for our parable. Let us look at this rich man and let us look at ourselves. Are we not rich? Materially, most of us are not. But when we think about the various gifts that each of us has such as wisdom, beauty, youth, health, and many others; each one of us has riches and each one of us is a rich man.

Now what do we do with these riches? If you think about that, you will see that we are very similar to the rich man. We enjoy our riches, and we use them for ourselves, disregarding the others and God most of the time.

And what is the greatest richness that we have? It is life itself. We are full of life. It is a gift. God gave it to us. It is ours and we do whatever we want with it. Again, what do we do, how much of our own life, of our own selves, of our prime times do we give to the others?

That is the perspective we would like to place in front of your eyes. Let us think about the rich man as being us in various ways, the various talents that we have, or our possessing the greatest richness that is life itself. And let us think of Lazarus as being Christ Himself begging at our souls’ door for a crumb, so that He may be fed. I think this is an interesting perspective, and if each of us meditates about it, we will see that the reality in our lives within our soul is quite close, very close to this picture from the parable. We are the rich man tasting, enjoying our life most of the day, every day, and caring very little about our Christ in a qualitative way.

The rich man is the image of a self-sufficient, closed person. There is no way for God to get in. And again, if we think about ourselves, maybe most of the time we spend our lives just minding our business, serving our egoism, and then we have Lazarus begging us to open up. But we stay closed. In general, the Gospel is a way to open up; the Gospel provides all the ways for a person to open up truly through good deeds, all the almsgiving, and everything.

It remains for each of us to meditate upon this perspective and to desire to offer something to Christ, but something precious to us and to Him. In our Lord’s eyes everything pertaining to our heart is precious. So, as the Scripture says, all things are due to God, especially the first fruits of all things (cf. Ex 22.29, 23.19; Prov 3.9; Ezek 48.14; etc.). This is how we should try to live our lives: giving thanks, offering to God all that is good within us, the first fruits of everything within us, of joy, of happiness, of sorrow even. Just make Him partake of our life.