Sunday, November 11, 2012

Met. Paul Yazigi on the Rich Man and Lazarus

Arabic original here.

Human Feeling, Between Life and Death

"There was a rich man... and there was a poor man named Lazarus cast at his doorway"

The Lord uses this parable-- and a parable is not an event, but rather a direct teaching. In this parable Jesus gives several contrasting images. There are two views that are completely opposite in every way. There are two settings in time: the time of this present, transient life and in eternal life.

The contrast between the state of the rich man and the state of the poor man after their death is terrifying. It really calls us to meditate on this reversal of things between this age and the age to come. The poor man is in the bosom of Abraham, while the other one looks upon him from afar. The poor man is blessed in the bosom of Abraham, while the other one is tormented in the flame. One is comforted and the other is tormented... This image of enormous contrast sows in our mind a question about the strangeness of how, when he was alive, the rich man did not notice even the first part of these inequalities, that is, the enormous division between him and the poor man. The rich man lived in his world and did not take notice of a completely opposite world, the world of the poor man.

Why did the rich man fall into this state of insensitivity? How many times did he come in and out, in his finery and silks and run into this poor man who had not obtained the slightest means of subsistence in life? And yet this contrast did not cause any questions within him? There are many reasons why the rich man did not sense Lazarus, but the most important are three in number:

The first is ignorance. This rich man was ignorant of the source and purpose of his wealth. He formed for himself an erroneous understanding of what he possessed and of the reason for happiness in life. More clearly put, he was ignorant of Lazarus' reality. He must have not cared for this poor man cast at his door because he fundamentally believed that the poor man had no right to his wealth. That each person is responsible for himself. That each person reaps what he sows. That he has the right to go on with his life, avoiding the other's life. It is an image that is precisely applicable to our society today: "Am I responsible for my brother?" This was the expression on the lips of the murderer in the Bible. It is not an expression for the lips of a brother! This rich man does not know that God will look at him through his own point of view, through how he turns to his neighbor that God left for him in his environment.

The second reason is that the rich man enjoyed great luxury every day. This life of luxury removes a person's attention to the other, and also his attention to himself. A person who defines the ideal image of his life as "luxury" puts this idol in God's place and because of it does without both God and his neighbor. Pleasure in general has an effect on people and makes them selfish. They seek for themselves and they consume everyone around you for its sake. Many people do not feel others' tragedies unless they taste life's bitterness or are in the grip of hardship. Good things were given to us so that we could be liberated from slavery to need. However, sumptuous luxury, as the Gospel describes it, enslaves us to the love of pleasure. The first manifestations of luxury are self-sufficiency, and introversion, even if it does not reach the point of abuse.

The third reason is habit. From the first moment when the rich man ran into the poor man cast at his door and decided to leave him and not take care of him, this habit started to grow in him, to accept his sin without allowing the poor man's presence, crying out, to rebuke him. Thus he accepted himself as lacking compassion. He accepted his condition  and the condition of the poor man. This acceptance becomes a habit that does not allow him to make restitution, even for a moment, or to ask himself, even once, whether his principle in life is true, whether it is right to give no regard to the problem before him. Is all this truth or deception? Is all this good or sin? This sin became a habit that blinded the eyes of the rich man. When we become accustomed to our unjust situation, it becomes acceptable for us!

At that point, we are really in need of a trumpet to warn us or someone to wake us. Here comes God's word, which smashes the crust of habit and by its light reveals the falsehood of ignorance and reverses the meaning of happiness. God's word makes us responsible for the other, for the neighbor. It reminds us that God has sent us as laborers in our environment, as responsible people and not heedless people. Indeed, our loving and responsible relationship to our surroundings is what will judge us. It is what will give us value in God's eyes. God's word puts pleasure in giving and not in taking. It makes keeping the commandments sweeter than honey. God's word is the first enemy of habit! The word is a constant trumpet that calls to repentance, leads to wakefulness, and sets things aright within us.

And so, in response to the rich man's wish after his time had passed, Jesus advised the living before they die to listen to Moses and the prophets, that is to God's word that is with us. This text from the Gospel that we heard today is God's word which by its light reveals the reality of wealth and makes the other on our path a responsibility, and teaches us the meaning of happiness. God's word-- and this text-- is a voice that constantly cries out, calling us to repentance. Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"...because he fundamentally believed that the poor man had no right to his wealth."

The poor man has no moral or legal claim whatsoever on the wealth of the rich man, just as we fallen sinners have no moral or legal claim to compel Christ to have condescended to become one of us, to endure human life with all its trials, tribulations, and suffering, to die and rise again for our sake.

Christ did all these things because He is above all, Merciful.

Likewise, the rich man erred, not because the poor man had some invented right to his wealth, but because he failed to show Christ's MERCY to the poor man.

If the poor man has a right to the rich man's wealth, then the rich man has no free will in the matter - he HAD to give to the poor man, and his failing to do so becomes a legal matter rather than a moral one.