Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The End of Dives and Lazarus

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity

Usually, I concentrate my sermon on the Commemoration of the Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi. However, this does mean that I seldom get to preach on one of Our Lord’s most famous, and disturbing parables.

The sad fact of the matter is that many of the beggars on our streets today simply aren’t beggars. There seems to be a group of people who have realised that just by dressing shabbily and making oneself dirty and dishevelled, they can make £500 a day literally by asking people for money. The generous soul seeing the apparently starving creature will naturally open her purse and ensure that she gives enough, not just for a cup of tea, but also perhaps for a sandwich as well. At the end of the day, this “beggar” will wash his face, get into a car and speed off to a nice flat.

This poses us with a bit of a dilemma.

Our Lord bids us to give to whoever asks of us. Yet, most of us would recoil at funding another person’s life of luxury. What should we do? Should we give, or should we ignore the beggar at the gate?

[PAUSE]

The parable of Dives and Lazarus is unsettling as it appears that if we live comfortably now, we shall be tormented for eternity in Hell. Is this correct, is comfortable living something to be rejected in order to save our souls? We do have to be careful here, or we will fall into Pelagianism. We enter into Eternal Life by responding to God’s grace which He offers us first and freely, depending on His goodness and not by any effort on our own part. We cannot earn our way into Heaven just by being nice to beggars.

Remember that St Paul says that we can give up everything we own but if we have not Charity, this will do us nothing.

This parable is not about what we do, but rather about the attitudes that we have with regard to people and things. Look at the Rich Man whom Tradition has named Dives. What does he really value? Clearly, he values his things over the life of a poor beggar sitting in agonised penury on his doorstep. Even in his state in Hell, he refuses to see this poor man as anything other than a means to an end. This is the typical inhabitant of Hell, one who sees true humanity only in themselves and who exists as emperor over a tiny land of things that pass away.

Humanity is destined never to pass away but has an Eternal future: Eternal life with Christ in God, or Eternal Death separated from anything that expresses true love. Every single human being is an end in themselves. God is the only true End. He is in the beginning, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, He is now and ever shall be.

In this life, each one of us is a beggar, seeking for what will make us truly alive, truly ourselves, and truly happy. It is when we recognise the deficiency of things, of “fine” living, riches and slothful luxury, that we know that we are in need of the One to rescue us from this Hell of things that rot, fall to pieces and cloy. In order to find Heaven, we must become poor by realising that the riches of this world are only worth anything if they actually bring someone closer to God. Even then these riches will rust, or get stolen.

[PAUSE]

Should we then give to beggars?

If we truly seek the humanity that is within a beggar, then we will always look for that which will express the true charity that comes from God. It is better, then, to do something that will allow each individual to be raised up out of the gutter as people in their own right, to get them back on their feet rather than seek contentment in their condition. It is better to give to charities that support the homeless or, better yet, find ways of being part of charities that support the homeless. That way, those in true need will find the true hand of friendship offered to them, and those who seek to exploit the condition of the homeless deprived of that which will only make them fall further.

Yet further, we must also find a way to help bring the false beggar to salvation, for it is such a one as he who, despite his apparent poverty, is as much Hell-bound as Dives because he cannot see that he is treating others as a means to an end rather than as children of God. How can we bring Christ’s salvation to one as truly poor as Dives?

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