Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Fifth Sunday of Luke, October 30, 2016
II Corinthians 11:31-33, 12:1-9; Luke 16:19-31
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Today we continue to explore the theme we’re focusing on for several weeks: What is our mission? And with today’s Gospel from the sixteenth chapter of Luke we see one facet of it very clearly.
This Gospel is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, as told by the Lord Jesus. And even though we do not know his name, it really is more the story of the rich man and only secondarily about Lazarus.
Now, this is not the Lazarus whom Jesus raises from the dead before His passion as told in John’s Gospel. That Lazarus was not a poor, sick man but rather the brother of Mary and Martha in Bethany.
So, to get us back into the story, let’s recap what the Lord tells us. He introduces this rich man, who has everything in life. He wears the best clothes and eats the best food. And at his gate sits Lazarus, who is poor and sickly, such a sad sight with dogs even licking his sores. Both of them die, and as Jesus tells us, Lazarus is carried by the angels to “Abraham’s bosom,” a symbolic way of saying that he was gathered to his fathers in a place of enjoyment. And the rich man dies and his soul goes to Hades instead.
While in Hades, the rich man is suffering in the flames, and he calls out to Abraham, whom he sees with Lazarus. He asks him to send Lazarus over with his finger dipped in water, so that he could cool the rich man’s tongue in the flames. But Abraham, reminding him that he had everything in the earthly life while Lazarus had nothing, and that their positions are now reversed, responds that there is no way for anyone to cross over between the two places.
The rich man then expresses concern for his five brothers, asking that Abraham send Lazarus back from the dead to warn them not to live as he did. Abraham responds that they have Moses and the prophets—that is, they have all that God has revealed in Jewish law and tradition. The rich man insists that someone coming back from the dead would convince them, and Abraham responds that, if they will not believe Moses and the prophets, their minds would not be changed even if someone were to rise from the dead. And that is where the account ends.
As I said, this is really the story of the rich man. Lazarus’s place in this story is mainly in terms of his relationship to the rich man.
The basic story of this rich man is that he lives a rather successful, comfortable life, then he dies and finds himself suffering in Hades. And there is no hope of changing his destiny here. There’s not even a chance of relieving his suffering.
So why does he end up in Hades? We don’t see any sin committed by him. Did he hurt anyone? Did he cheat someone out of something? Is his wealth ill-gotten? We don’t know any of that. Jesus doesn’t tell us. There are no apparent sins of commission here.
But there is something that we should notice, if we listen closely to what the story says about Lazarus’s situation in the earthly life. Let’s hear that part again: “And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.”
Lazarus was not only poor and full of sores, but he “desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” And did the rich man give him anything from his table? Did Lazarus receive anything from this man who had plenty to spare?
The sin here from the rich man was not a sin of commission. It was not a wicked deed that he did. The sin is a sin of omission, the good that he did not do.
Here was Lazarus, right at his gate, totally obvious to everyone. He is poor. He is sick. He is hungry. And yet the rich man leaves him outside. He gives him nothing. He does not take any care for him. There’s no indication that he outright harmed Lazarus by doing something to him, but he also did nothing for him.
From a spiritual point of view, it is obvious that God sent Lazarus to this rich man for the rich man’s salvation, but he ignored his opportunity and let him rot outside with the dogs.
So how do we understand this story in light of this question we are asking about our mission? What is our mission? Our mission is to the person in front of us.
The rich man was given a mission by God—Lazarus. He put him right there at his gate so that he could not be missed. Through Lazarus, he could have been saved. Yet the rich man just left him there. He did not fulfill his mission. And so he was not saved. And so he found himself in eternal suffering.
As we ponder our mission as a parish and as individual Christians, it can be easy for us to think that our mission is “out there” somewhere. We want to grow. We want to do good. We want to give toward good causes. We want to be well thought of by other Orthodox Christians in our area and in our archdiocese.
But how much are we seeing what God has put right in front of us? How much are we seeing that our mission is to the person in front of us?
As Christians, we should of course try to help the world, giving to good causes, etc. But our mission is to the person in front of us. It is to our husbands and wives. Through them, we are saved. It is to our parents and our children. Through them, we are saved. It is to our co-workers and to our classmates. Through them, we are saved. It is to our friends and to our fellow parishioners. Through them, we are saved.
As St. Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, we of course want to contribute to many good causes. And we should—no question about it. But our mission is to Emmaus. Our mission is to the Lehigh Valley. Our mission is to Eastern Pennsylvania. God has put Emmaus right at our gates. He has made us part of the Lehigh Valley community. He has given us Eastern Pennsylvania as our sphere of influence.
What are we doing to bless Emmaus? What are we doing to bless the Lehigh Valley and Eastern Pennsylvania? Through the people here, we are saved.
I want this to be a time for us when we seek our mission, when we ask how we can plant the seeds of Orthodoxy here in this garden God has given us, when we ask how we can cultivate Christian community with the people in front of us. What is our vision? Who are we? What is our mission?
Our mission is to the person in front of us.
To the One Who gives us our mission, our Lord Jesus Christ be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.