September 25, 2016
Jesus now speaks to the Pharisees who have been mocking him. Last week, Jesus spoke to his disciples about the correct use of worldly wealth and now he continues with the Pharisees. Because we hear of Jesus conflict with the Pharisees in Scripture, we might adopt an attitude that these are evil people. In reality, they were a group of people who arose in the post-exile time period of Jewish history. There were very important in preserving Jewish identity and fostering a zeal for God’s law. It is from the Pharisee tradition that the concept of resurrection developed, so that when Jesus spoke of it, it was not an alien concept to people. The problem with the Pharisees who opposed Jesus is that the sin of pride subverted their service to God. Pride is the fundamental sin because it distorts our personhood, the most profound depth of who we are. When we have a distorted view of self, then our relationships become distorted. The Pharisees considered themselves better than others and more worthy of God because they followed the law, at least in outward observance. The irony here is that the Pharisees believed themselves pleasing to God. Jesus then responds to them as he often does, by means of a story. A man is blessed with great wealth. In a world where a feast happened infrequently, this man has one every day. His life is care free, he could easily consider his comfortable and peaceful state a sign that God favored him. Such thinking was not limited to that man. A poor man, named Lazarus sits at his gate. The fact that dogs lick his wounds indicates that he is unclean, there is no way he can better himself. There is a point of interest here. The rich man is unnamed while the beggar is named. In any story, it is the important people who are named. Oddly enough, the name “Lazarus” means “my God helps’. Where is God’s help? God’s help was on the table with the rich man, for Lazarus would have been happy with leftovers. I find it interesting that in this story, the rich man has not actively done wrong to anybody. Perhaps he is considered a good citizen. The sin is his blindness to others. He only sees his own position of privilege and fails in what it means to be a human person; he must share himself with others. Death is the great equalizer. Both men die and now their positions are reversed. Oddly, now the rich man, in his torment takes note of Lazarus, who is now at peace. The rich man, who did nothing for Lazarus, wants Lazarus to serve him. The rich man’s pride is impenetrable and that is why is always in torment. The Pharisees, who first heard this story have long since passed from this world. The story remains for us to hear, to learn from and to take warning. The blessings of this world are entrusted to us as stewards so that we may become true human persons who image well the divine image of Christ. If you have the idea that you are pleasing to God, more so than some other soul, take heed of this story. Pride is the sin that is most subtle, yet most powerful. Once we cease to be aware of ourselves in relation with God and others and we simply focus on our own desires, we become that rich man. The call is clear, be the help of God, the work of God to the world around you. Then, Lazarus, the beggar who is still with us today, will find God’s help in you and in turn, he will welcome you to the joys of heaven.
Father Ken Harder