Vol I No. 7
Daily Thought

Trinity I: Dives and Lazarus

by William J. Martin


(c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst

thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things:

but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

(St. Luke xvi. 25)

Trinitytide is all about belief that grows into love. If Eastertide might be called the season of vision and knowledge, Trinitytide is about habituation to the good or the generation of love for God’s goodness. In Eastertide we were called to see and behold God the Father’s goodness in the historical life of Jesus Christ. In Trinitytide we learn that the historical manifestation of God’s goodness as incarnated in the life of Jesus Christ intends to repeat itself in the lives of all believers. Knowledge of God’s goodness is part of virtue but not the whole of it. True virtue is the habit of acting upon what one knows to be good through love.

Of course, learning to love God’s goodness in Jesus Christ is no easy matter. The aspiration seems too ambitious for us! God’s goodness in Jesus inspires us to admire and adore a Jesus who is outside of us. But when it comes to the working out of our sin and the working in of His redemption, we falter, fall, and even fold. Jesus warns us, Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (St. Luke xvi. 13) Mammon means both riches and possessions in both the Hebrew and Greek, and that it can mean also that in which one trusts. (Wiki…)

Our predicament is illustrated neatly in today’s Gospel Parable about The Rich Man and Lazarus. We read: There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day….(St. Luke xvi. 19) St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the worship of mammon is illustrated here in the prosperity of the wicked by way of temporal success. (St. TA: Hom. Trin. I) First we witness a man who was rich in earthly things. Evidence of it is found in the purple robe that clothes him. Purple was the costliest of colors in the ancient world; it adorned not only her kings but also the statues of her gods. Fine linen was procured only at a very high price from the looms of Egypt. So as he fared sumptuously every day, he was robed in princely purple without and by softest linen within. That he has no name is, according to the Archbishop Trench, indicative of the fact that in Heaven’s sight he is too common for comment, since he represents everyman who lives forever in this world, never taking so much as a thought for the next. (R.C.Trench, Parables, 346) Cardinal Cajetan says that in this world the names of the rich are known and are important, but the names of the poor are either not known, or if known are counted unworthy to be particularly noted. (Idem) And while there is no suggestion that the unnamed rich man was an evil-liver, Jesus teaches us that his real sin was that he was all rooted in unbelief, in a heart set on this world, refusing to give credence to that invisible world, that could be discovered through faith. (Idem) Because the rich man failed to seek out and find God, his heart was never on course to find the treasures of Heavenly Love.

We read also that there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (Ibid, 20,21) Every time the rich man entered or exited his house he had to pass by a beggar, whose name we know. Lazarus means the one whom God has helped and can be translated also as Eleazar. Because Lazarus was full of sores (Idem), he was no longer able to walk, and so others must have laid him at the rich man’s gate. (Idem) That there was no relief from others for his hunger is revealed in his desiring to be fed from the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. That dogs came and licked his sores shows us that his fellow men withheld their compassion also. The brute beasts had compassion and mercy upon Lazarus clothed in sores while the rich man and his associates clothed in purple and fine linen fared sumptuously. One had hosts of attendants to wait upon his every caprice; only stray dogs tended to the sores of the other. (Trench, 349)

So what should we learn from this Parable about our own present spiritual state? It teaches that God loves Lazarus and that we should love him too. Outward poverty and its appearance should not confuse us into thinking that it is a sign of inward destitution. St. Thomas tells us that the poverty and suffering of Lazarus should reveal that adversity in this present life, though short-lived, characterizes the life of the saint in three ways.  First, poverty of possessions –a beggar named Lazarus is a sign of spiritual treasure that can be found when earthly poverty leads a man to fear God and so to value and treasure heavenly things above all else. Do not be afraid, my son, because we have become poor. You have great wealth if you fear God and refrain from every sin and do what is pleasing in his sight. (Tobit iv, 21) Second, the contempt of this world. ‘Lazarus was laid at his gate.’ ‘We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.’ (1 Cor. iv. 13) If we find ourselves in Lazarus, we must expect to be be neglected, abandoned, and left to perish by this world because by its measurement we have failed. Third, the saints will endure bitterness of tribulations and afflictions –‘Full of sores.’ The Lord scourges those who draw near to him, in order to admonish them. (Judith viii. 27) That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ….(1 St. Peter i. 6,7) The suffering of Lazarus should be a sign to us of that sanctification that is tried by affliction. To be saved we must suffer all manner of separation and distinction from a world of sin. In Jesus Christ the journey back to God forms new character as we beg for Divine mercy, endure the contempt of the world, and suffer for the sake of God’s kingdom.  

Next we read that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. (Ibid, 22) The spiritual suffering and death imaged in Lazarus will lead to Heaven. Covetousness and the worship of God and Mammon lead to Hell. The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 22, 23) St. Thomas says that Lazarus was received with honor and glory by the angels. The rich man was buried with honor and glory by unnamed earthly men…only to end up in Hades. (Idem) Lazarus is relieved of his suffering and pain, his thirst is quenched, and we hear no more from him because Heaven has overcome his earthly misery. The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and there shall no torment touch them. (Wis. iii. 1) But the rich man’s pathetic worship of mammon leads only to an eternity of agony and pain. Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. (Idem, 24) He is as consumed with his bodily comfort as he was before and so he asks for nothing but relief of it. He even expects Father Abraham to use the now cleaned up and revived Lazarus to serve his lordly needs! Nothing has changed. 

But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. (Ibid, 25) The rich man trusted not in God but in mammon. He is without excuse since Lazarus was sent to his door so that he might discover his need for God’s love. In so finding Lazarus he was made to find himself. He should have realized that he was more like Lazarus than not.  In Lazarus’ outward material poverty and suffering he should have found a friend sent to help him to overcome his own inward destitution. Lazarus did not have the luxury of finding God fully because his body was afflicted with starvation and sickness. The rich man had the luxury which he did not use. If he had, he would have shared his earthly treasure with Lazarus so that both together might seek God’s Kingdom.

Ye cannot serve God and Mammon. (St. Luke xvi. 13) Notice the subtlety of the rich man’s damnation in today’s Parable. I say subtlety because, again, he was not a notorious sinner. We even get the sense that he loved his family. For when he realizes that his hellish condition is beyond all hope, he says, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send Lazarus to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. (Ibid, 27, 28) Thus we learn that good people who love their own and themselves might very end up in Hell. The rich man had his choice between things temporal and things eternal, to save his life here or to save it there; and by the choice which he made, he must abide. (Trench, 355) Saving our lives here might come at the high price of forsaking our lives there in God’s Kingdom. And heaven might just be lost because we have ignored some seemingly insignificant particular. It might all hinge upon an unrelieved beggar who is laid at our door. It might hang upon a selfish addiction to fame or fortune that deprives another of our time and concern. It might dangle above us like Damocles’ sword because we have refused to forgive a relative or friend. Whatever it is, that last drop of mammon’s dross must be burnt away if we would be saved.

The love of God alive in our hearts comes only when we leave the comforts of mammon and seek to serve God alone. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him. (1 St. John iv. 16)  We love Him because He first loved us. But to prove it, we must love our brother also. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. (Ibid, 20) For, remember, there is always a Lazarus sent to us by God to draw out His love from our hearts to bring virtue alive in His world.