The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

In today's Gospel reading (Luke 16:19-31), we hear the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, who is described as a destitute outcast.

When the poor man died he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. However, the rich man was tormented upon his death. He lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom.

Why does the rich man ended up in hell?

We know from the Gospel that, while wealth is seductive, not all the rich were condemned. The Evangelist Mark explains that many of the rich are condemned not because of their wealth, but because of their trust in it: how hard it is for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! (Mark 10-24). Wealth allows us to indulge ourselves in every way, and this can be dangerous for the state of our souls.

In the parable, the rich man's fault was that he lived only for the flesh; he enjoyed earthly goods without measure, only giving scraps to Lazarus. Like us, the rich man is a consumer. He is so focused on satisfying himself that he has little room left for compassion.

According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Church, the essence of the torments of hell does not lie in physical sufferings, but in being separated from God through the absence of spiritual repentance.

The rich man’s hope is that he can warn his brothers on earth so they can avoid his fate, “if one of the dead go to them, they repent.” But if we are to look to the Pharisees as an example, we can see that this hasn’t always been the case. The Pharisees witnessed with their own eyes the miracles of Lord Jesus, raising people from the dead, then He himself risen from the dead, and yet they did not believe Him. The simple truth is, we cannot convince a person to have faith in Christ or set out on the road to salvation. We are the one who digs the chasm that divides our soul from God.

What can we take away from today's parable is that we want to be like Lazarus.

Lazarus did not enter the Kingdom because he was physically poor, but because he was 'poor in spirit.'

As Saint Maria of Paris says, "to be 'poor in spirit' is to be able to say with Christ, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.'" She goes on to explain, "Christ did not know measure in His love for people. And this love He reduced His Divinity to the point of incarnation and took upon Himself the suffering of the universe.  In this sense His example teaches us not measure in love but the absolute and boundless giving of ourselves, determined by the laying down of our soul for our friends.  Without striving for such giving of oneself, there is no following the path of Christ."

To be poor in spirit does not only mean giving away our wealth to others, but giving away our love and compassion to others. It means laying down our lives for others in the way Christ did for us - not only in the extreme example of dying for the other, but more so through the example of living for the other person.

Ask yourself whether you are too comfortable, like the rich man in the story. Surely, that comfort which numbs our compassion will lead us to a bitter end.