In the Gospel of the Rich man and Lazarus which is appointed for this Sunday, there is a very pertinent message for all of us modern American Christians. The Gospel begins by saying, There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.
This is the American dream isn’t it? To have all the money that you could possibly want, to wear the best designer clothes and to dine on the finest gourmet foods. This great American dream … is described so well by Our Saviour in this Gospel Parable thousands of years ago.
Thousands of years ago … around 30 AD to be more precise, Our Saviour warned us about this kind of life and where it leads. And yet here we are today, still believing that the life of material comfort and pleasure is the best life, the most desirable life. So much of our culture and national economy is built on this dream. It is actually a way of life for us.
On the infamous date of September 11, 2001 after the terrible attack on our country, the President of the United States came on television to assure the American people. He ended his remarks by telling us that the best thing we can do right now is “to go shopping!” There was no talk of prayer or asking for God’s protection. He said this because our country depends totally on materialism. We are a consumer society and our country depends on consumerism to survive.
Have we learned nothing in the past two thousand years? We still pursue this elusive dream with all our strength. We still believe the LIE that material wealth, comfort and pleasure bring joy and happiness.
Just look at those who have achieved the American dream in all it’s fullness, the movie stars and rock stars who are swimming in riches, pleasure and comfort. It is simply common knowledge that the majority of them try to seek escape in drugs, alcohol and promiscuity. Their excessive life style, divorce rate and frequent change of partners makes the news on a regular basis. They have everything our contemporary world believes is important, and yet sadly, their suicide rate exceeds that of the average American. Rock stars in general die 25 years younger than the average American. Their normal life expectancy is 27 years of age!
And yet against all these facts, we continue to follow this dream of wealth and fame and pleasure. We give ourselves over to earning a college degree that we have no real interest in or working at a job that doesn’t really satisfy us, just to achieve this dream that Our Saviour warned us about. It is simply common knowledge that wealth does not bring happiness and yet we continue to believe it, we continue to run after it.
Now, look at the saints. They had neither wealth nor fame and yet they had a degree of joy and peace that most of us can only imagine. And their suicide rate was ZERO!
As the Gospel parable continues, Our Saviour tells us about the other man in this story, Lazarus who was very poor and sickly. He is in complete contrast to the rich man. He lays at the gate of the rich man hoping for some mercy and kindness from him. He wore rags instead of the finest linens and instead of gourmet food he longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the table of the rich man.
But the rich man paid no attention to the poor man.
Then the Gospel Parable suddenly switches and tells us that Lazarus died and was carried by the angels into heaven.
Then the rich man also died and was buried and went to hell.
The abrupt change in the Gospel Parable to the subject of death is deliberate. Death comes suddenly when we least expect it. And what happens after death is directly related to how we live our life and the choices we make. We much choose if we will believe Christ and follow Him on the narrow path of salvation that leads to eternal life or believe the world and go down the wide path that leads to everlasting death.
Speaking of the death and burial of the rich man, St. John Chrysostom says, that “the rich man even before he died, was already buried beneath his riches, the fine couches, rugs, furnishings, sweet oils, perfumes, large quantities of wine, varieties of foods and flatterers.”
At the end of today's Gospel we hear the rich man say to Father Abraham, "I beg you therefore, father, that you would send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment. Abraham said to him, 'they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' But Abraham said to him, 'if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead."
Christ is trying to wake us up from our pursuit of material goods and pleasure. He is telling us as clearly as He can where that kind of life leads us. He is telling us that death is coming for each one of us at any moment and that how we live our lives today will determine how we spend eternity. It is too late after death to repent.
Is Christ trying to scare us or frighten us and make our life gloomy and dark. Are we suppose to live each day under the fear of death ..... St. Benedict the great father of western monasticism says that we should keep death daily before our eyes. What does he mean? Are we suppose to be all gloomy and dark?
The real meaning of what St. Benedict is asking us to do and what Our Saviour is telling us about in today's Gospel, is about the importance of truly living our life, authentically and fully. There is no time to waste on idle words and nonsense. No time to waste on the empty pursuit of wealth and pleasure. Life is short. Run while you have the light of day!
My brothers & sisters, the reason that we as Christians live such superficial lives, accumulating useless things and longing after comfort and pleasure is that we live as though this life were merely a dress-rehearsal of the life that we will one day live.
One day soon, I'll really repent,
one day soon I'll really begin to seek Christ above all else,
one day soon I'll really start to pray,
one day soon I'll really turn my life around!
But that "one day" doesn't come and suddenly we're old, or sick or in an accident and facing death saying, "this isn't suppose to happen yet, I haven't really begun to live my life the way I wanted to".
Perhaps I could have been a saint, a great man but I have settled for a superficial life, always imagining that one day I would really change.
The injunction of St. Benedict to "keep death daily before our eyes" is not a call to live with a sense of dread in the constant awareness that death is about to overtake us. It means rather: 'be aware of the fact that the choices you are making now may be the last event of your present life'. In which case it must be authentic, loving, compassionate and faithful. It must express all the desire for good that you have. All your desire to serve Christ faithfully. It must be the fullest expression of who you really want to be, it must be a confirmation of your faith and hope in Christ .... How could it be materialistic, sensual or casual or superficial at a time like this?
The only way to really live our life authentically and fully is with the remembrance of death. This is the essence to today's Gospel.
Only awareness of death will give life this authenticity and depth, only an awareness of death will bring real life to life. This is the way that all of our great saints fought against the desire for a vain and superficial life. They found that the remembrance of death brought meaning and purpose and heart-felt prayer and real love into each moment of their daily life.
What is their secret … There is no secret. It is simply following Our Saviour, Jesus Christ in His Holy Church. Living the Gospel and being strengthened by the Holy Sacraments of His Church. Being nourished on the precious Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion instead of the fine gourmet treats of this world.
Our Saviour has said with His most pure lips that cannot lie, “come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”
This is the rest that we long for, this is the peace that the world cannot give. It is found only in following Christ in His Holy Church. There is no other way.Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Amen.