In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In the parable of our Lord Jesus Christ which was read today, we see two persons: the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man lived a life of leisure in great luxury, enjoying a splendid banquet every day. The beggar Lazarus was laid at the gates of the rich dying from hunger. He was longing to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table, but no one gave him any.
The Gospel reveals the eternal destiny of both. We see that in the future life the one who was regarded as the happiest person in the world found himself in torment, while the other, who was considered the most miserable, inherited Paradise.
Why was the rich man condemned? – Not for his wealth, but for his misuse of it, for using it only for his pleasures and having no concern for others. He didn’t have grave sins, but God’s word reveals that his end was the torments of hell.
The rich man lived only for himself and didn’t notice those in need. It cost him nothing to sooth the afflictions of the beggar, but he simply didn’t notice him and his miserable situation. However, the crumbs given to the beggar could have saved him from eternal fire.
“By mercy and faith sins are purged away” – says Solomon (Prov. 15,27) In the life of St Peter the tax collector, we learn how important mercy is before the Judgment of God.
St Peter lived in Africa in the 6th century. He was a chief collector of taxes in the service of the emperor Justinian. He was known as a cruel and merciless man, who had never given anything to the poor.
One day beggars were sitting in the street and talking amongst themselves. One of them bet that he would get something from the hands of Peter, the tax collector. He approached Peter and started to annoy him by endlessly begging alms. Finally, Peter in anger grabbed a morsel of bread and threw it in the face of the beggar.
Two days later Peter fell seriously ill and was close to death. In a vision, he saw himself as dead and how the holy Angels weighed his deeds on the scale of the righteous judgment of God. Evil spirits brought a charter where all Peter’s sins committed from his childhood were written and put it on one side of the scale.
The angels couldn’t find any good deed from Peter to put on the other side of the scale, except a morsel of bread, thrown at the beggar. When it was placed on the scale, it prevented the opposite side from being pulled down by his vicious deeds. Then the angels told Peter: “Now go, poor Peter, and add more bread to this morsel, so that you may be spared from the eternal fire.”
Having recovered, Peter pondered the meaning of the dream and thought that if one loaf of bread, thrown involuntarily, was of such help to him, then he might receive much more help for good deeds performed with compassion and from the heart. He repented and completely changed his life. He generously distributed his wealth to the needy, and fed and clothed many. He became as fervent in giving alms as previously he was in increasing his wealth.
Peter was unable to quench his desire to give even when he distributed all of his possessions. Then he sold himself into slavery and gave the money to the poor.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a vital message to people of our times. One may say: “This is my money and I may do with it what I want. I didn’t steal it, I earned it for my work, my knowledge, my talents.”
But what do we have of our own? “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out” (1Tim.6) – as the Apostle says. We receive everything from God and we will give an account for our usage of His gifts.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus reminds us, that life is given us with a certain goal. Those are in error, who live their lives in luxury and pleasures, not thinking of the future. Their lot will be late and useless remorse. There is no repentance after one’s death. The rich man didn’t benefit from his late repentance in hell.
This parable reminds us what we mostly forget and what we don’t like to think about: that our life on earth is temporal and God’s judgment awaits us; that our deeds in this temporal life will define our eternal destiny: blessed or sorrowful.
This parable teaches us to consider everything in this life from the perspective of eternity, as St Paul says: “While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor 4).
Bishop Andrei (Erastov)