I finally just saw Avengers End Game. I, like many of you, was also surprised at the fate of Iron Man, who is this amazingly strong super hero that we believed was indestructible. Just like in the Gospel story today from Luke 16:19-31, we see another amazing contrast. A person with immeasurable wealth, who seems to have it all. We aren’t given his whole life’s story, except that when he dies he goes to Hades and is in much suffering. The other person in the story, Lazarus, who has very little in life is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom after he dies. The roles of each change after death, with Lazarus having every comfort while the rich man cannot even get a drop of water to give him the smallest relief from pain, fire and thirsting.
Looking back at the Gospel reading from today, what did the rich man have? Fine clothes, purple ones! We might not think much of this today, but do you know how expensive this stuff was? Only kings and the richest would wear these, because it was so expensive to make. The purple dye came from a sea animal and used a very special technique to color the clothing, which didn’t fade and provided the richest of colors for their time. Believe it or not, this hardly exists today because it was so labor intensive! He also had lots of food to eat daily. At that time, people didn’t eat so much, and to eat like this meant you had more money than most people at that time could even dream of.
So, we know well what this rich man had, but what didn’t he have? Well, he certainly didn’t have a name… And why is that? Why do we hear about Lazarus, but not him? Do you think he had a relationship with God? If he was so focused on the things of the world, so concerned with the clothes he wore and food he ate? Where does God fit into his life picture? If he had regularly remembered God, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, giving to those in need, would he be in a place of torment, pain and fire? Would he be in Hades, separated from God by an abyss, if he had a good relationship with God? And what does it mean to have a relationship with someone, even as simple as a family relationship. It means talking to, getting to know the other person, listening to them, serving and caring for them in order to know them better.
It means giving of one’s self. Not take take take, but give give give. Ultimately, how is our relationship with God, and how do we prepare to encounter him some day? Even closer to home, how do we prepare to encounter Christ and welcome his birth in less than two months on Christmas?
We are entering into the period of the Nativity Fast in a few short weeks. This is the 40 days before December 25th where we actively prepare, though prayer and fasting, to accept our Lord and Savior on Christmas day, the day of His earthly birth. We prepare daily by reading Holy Scripture, like the Gospel readings laid our by our Church Fathers, who are the Saints, which have been preserved in our tradition for this very purpose over many centuries.
From the Philokalia, we hear about hardship and sacrifice, whether we have a lot or a little, and what that does to a person. It purifies them! The greater the purity or a person, the more they will see God and the riches that are in Him, for they have purified themselves through love and self-control.
Purification calls for a radical change in one’s character and in one’s way of life. The Gospel calls all to this transformation: “man and woman, old and young, city dweller and rustic, private citizen and public leader, rich and poor, for the same contest call us all. So let us change our lives” (19.6). Those who live with Christ are in a constant dynamic process of transformation into new persons. Purification is a process, or sequence of moral and spiritual growth toward God: by keeping the commandments out of fear of God one is purified and becomes illuminated with the divine light. Purification is moral reform according to the commandments of the Scripture. As St. Gregory states in Oration 20:
Approach [God] by the way you live, for what is pure can only be acquired through purification. Do you want to become a theologian someday, to be worthy of the Divinity? Keep the commandments. Make your way forward through observing the precepts, for Christian practice (praxis) is the stepping-stone to contemplation (θεωρία) (20:12).
Purification is the change of one’s whole conduct of life, one’s praxis. This is the necessary basis and context for the deep knowledge of God that St. Gregory calls ‘contemplation’.
Mother Teresa reminds us to be kind and merciful while giving. “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; to have kindness in your face, your eyes, kindness in your smile and your warm greeting. Be the light of God’s kindness to children, to the poor, to all who suffer and are lonely, and give always a happy smile. Give them not only your care, but also your heart.” Mother Teresa says we are the instruments of love in the hands of God, and are to recognize Christ in each distressed person – in the hungry man, the lonely, or the homeless seeking shelter. God has identified himself with the hungry, the sick, the naked, and the homeless; Hunger, not only for bread, but for love, for care, to be somebody to someone; nakedness, not of clothing only, but nakedness of that compassion that very few people give to the unknown; homelessness, not only just for a shelter made of stone, but that homelessness that comes from having no one to call your own.
The motto of every Christian should be “I serve.” And if I cannot go in person, I can serve through my money offering. Through this medium, I can visit the sick, speak to prisoners, remember the orphans and the elderly, and minister through the whole program of my church in all phases. During the approaching Advent season, it would be good to try to remember those in need, those who are affected all around us by poverty in America, and even the world.
Mother Teresa said: “Let us not be satisfied with just giving money; money is not enough, for money one can get. The poor need our hands to serve them, they need our hearts to love them. The religion of Christ is love, the spreading of love.”
I pray you remember this Gospel reading of the rich man and Lazarus, and are reminded of the importance or giving as we prepare to receive Christ this Christmas season. To Him belongs all Glory, Honor and Worship, Amen.