Today in the Orthodox Church, we read the famous teaching from St. Luke’s Gospel about the beggar Lazarus and the rich man (Lk. 16:19-31). It is a difficult passage for we see a rich man in the torments of hell, begging for relief, pleading that his family be warned of their impending doom. Neither request is granted. It seems harsh and cruel. Where is God’s mercy?
We find God’s mercy at the beginning of the story. It says Lazarus was laid at the gate of the rich man. God saw this extravagantly wealthy man and said, “I want to save him.” God devised a plan, “I’ll have poor Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate, so that he sees the poor state of his neighbor daily, so that he can learn to pity a suffering human.”
It was no accident that Lazarus was laid at this rich man’s gate. God knew that if the rich man could open his heart just a tiny bit, give alms just once – that little gap in his cold heart would create an opening for more of God’s love and grace to enter.
God is creative in his salvific ways. He doesn’t need much – just the tiniest speck of goodness, the littlest inclination to do something good, and He comes rushing in with His grace, beginning salvation in our hearts.
Every day the poor Lazarus laid near the rich man’s front door, wasting away, being harassed by animals, starving to death. And every day the rich man’s heart grew colder and further from God.
It’s as if God said, “If he will just show mercy one time, then I will have something to work with.” But the rich man refused. He remained absorbed in himself, his own cares, his luxuries, and he disdained the poor Lazarus at his door.
Even after the rich man’s death, there is no change of heart. He does not regret his lack of mercy but begins demanding that Lazarus serve him, bringing him water while he burns in hell. When that doesn’t work, he again demands the service of Lazarus, that he be sent to warn the rich man’s family.
Even in hell, the rich man views himself as superior to Lazarus. His heart has not changed in torments, he simply longs for his old luxuries and comfort. And, I must add, when we view others as lower than us, we are in an upside down, hellish state like the rich man.
I read these things and must ask myself sobering questions: who or what is the Lazarus that God has sent into my life? What people, situations, or circumstances have been sent my way to get me out of my own head, to get me to pay attention to the needs of others? Who rubs me the “wrong” way in order to get me to see that I am the one who is wrong, that I am living upside down with my head in hell?
God is creatively working out the salvation of each one of us, putting all the pieces in place, masterfully orchestrating the whole thing. But am I paying attention? Do I see my brother Lazarus in my life, whatever that might look like, or am I too absorbed in myself to notice?