5th Sunday of Luke
(The rich man and Lazarus)
1 Corinthians 12:27-13:8
“Brethren, you are all the Body of Christ, and individually members thereof” (1 Cor. 12:27). Thus begins today’s Epistle reading. We are all different, we all have a different role to play according to our personal abilities, but ultimately, we are all one body, we are all connected, and we all have need of one another. In the Book of Genesis, the first thing God says of man after his creation is, “it is not good for man to be alone” (2:18). We were created in the image of God — in the image of a God who is, not a monad, but a Trinity, in the image of a God who exists eternally as a communion of Persons. One human being alone is not a person, but an individual; in order to be a person there must also be another person with whom to be in communion. For me to live as if the other doesn’t exist, then, is something unnatural, something that undermines my humanity and extinguishes the image of God within me. One could say that this type of selfishness is a form of atheism.
This, then, is also the message of today’s Gospel reading. The poor Lazarus sat outside the house of the rich man, hungry and wounded — even the dogs showed him compassion by licking his sores, but the rich man was entirely indifferent to his plight, as if Lazarus was altogether invisible. He lived entirely for himself; he lived, in other words, as an individual, not as a person. This is why only Lazarus is mentioned by name, whereas the rich man remains anonymous, because a name belongs to a person and expresses a personal existence.
And this condition continues also in the next life. After his death, Lazarus finds himself in Paradise. However, the Gospel here does not refer to it as Paradise, but as the Bosom of Abraham. In other words, Lazarus finds himself in the company of saints, as a person in communion with other persons. The anonymous rich man, however, finds himself alone in Hades. He is not even in the company of sinners, but is tormented by the flame of isolation.
When the rich man asks Abraham for a moment of communion — for Lazarus to come near him, even for just a second — Abraham tells him that this is impossible, because “between us and you a great chasm hath been firmly fixed, so that those wishing to pass through from this place to you are not able, nor may they pass through from that place to us” (Luke 16:26). This chasm did not appear there in the next life, nor did God put it there. The chasm was created by the rich man himself, before his death, through his egotism and indifference. The difference is that, before death, the rich man was still in a position to close the chasm — by repentance, by charity, by some act of love and concern. After death, however, the chasm becomes “firmly fixed” and remains as a permanent obstacle.
Seeing that there was no hope for him, he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers in order that they might believe and not meet the same end. Abraham tells him that they already have all they need to be saved, and that “they will not be persuaded even if one should rise from the dead” (v. 31). Here, of course, reference is made to Christ, who truly rose from the dead, and on this we could say many things — how, for example, the five brothers symbolise the five books of Moses; in other words, the Jewish people, who refused to believe in the Messiah even after he rose from the dead. The basic point I wish to underline here, however, is that we already have all we need in order to believe, in order to correct ourselves, in order to repent. Let us not wait for anything further. Today is the day we begin our return to the Lord, today is the day we begin to close the chasms we in so many ways have opened between ourselves and our fellow man. Let us begin today to live as persons, not individuals, because if tomorrow never comes, our chasms will remain firmly fixed.
Fr Kristian Akselberg