"...If I may be so bold as to put some pieces together, I think it is fair to say from this parable…that while the love of money and wealth and popularity may give us respect and a name in this world…it is also that which denies us our name for eternity...."
How do we in this life determine success?
Is it who has the most friends? Is it determined by things that we do in life that are unique? Is it who has the biggest house or the nicest car? What about how much money we have in our bank account? All of these things are popular measurements in our western culture of how to tell if someone is a success….or a failure.
We heard today in the Gospel, the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus...the story of two men who lived their lives on this earth as complete opposites. The rich man spent his entire life being judged by the world as a success story. People knew who he was. He was in important man whom others went and sought for advice! The world knew his name!
On the other hand we have Lazarus, who spent his entire life in utter misery, having in himself a combination of sorrows that none of us have ever experienced in this life. He was judged by the world to be a failure…a nameless nothing…a nobody.
You will notice, however, that in the gospel, it was Lazarus who was given a name…and the Rich Man who became a nameless nobody! Lazarus was known by the Holy One and by the Saints! Walked over and ignored by the world his entire life…and yet he is now known by name to those who actually count! He lives forever in eternal joy, while the rich man now becomes nameless and lives in misery…having seen his fortunes changed so quickly.
We have this beautiful prayer which I have spoken to you about many times. It is the prayer “memory eternal” that we sing after a memorial service for someone who has departed this life. In those simple two words, we are praying for several things:
First, that our Lord give us a remembrance of death, reminding us that our lives are short on this earth, and we should live every day clouded in virtue…as it could be our last.
Second, so that we never forget our loved ones and their roles in our lives.
And third, so that the departed person be established, like Lazarus, in the bosom of Abraham…that he have a NAME amongst those who have gone before us. In fact, the final prayer before the memory eternal that is said by the priest:
“Give him/her rest in Abraham’s bosom…number them among the just, and have mercy on us and save us, for as much as He is good and loves mankind.”
To be remembered by Christ…to echo the words of the thief on the cross: “Remember me in Thy Kingdom”….to be held forever in existence…THIS is what we say in those two simple words “memory eternal”. We want God to hold us into everlasting life…and this is the success that Lazarus obtained.
If I may be so bold as to put some pieces together, I think it is fair to say from this parable…that while the love of money and wealth and popularity may give us respect and a name in this world…it is also that which denies us our name for eternity.
Now, before everyone goes and sells their houses and retirement plans this morning, and before everyone starts to think that having a little bit of wealth is a sin, let us not forget about the example of the third character in our parable this morning…the other rich man whom we hardly hear about…Abraham. This great Saint had more riches and possessions than many of us could imagine. He used his riches to help others! Abraham was constantly being oriented not towards what he had…but rather what he could do for mankind.
The nameless rich man in the parable was the opposite. He had a hard heart. He ignored Lazarus at his doorstep. He was a lover of comfort and wealth, and not a lover of God or His people.
So on this day where we remember this frightful gospel lesson, how do we, living with the temptations of the richest country in the world…constantly being reminded of the importance to have the “next big thing”…the newest innovations in comfort…being pushed into living the “successful life”…how do we overcome such bombarding temptations?
It starts with creating a new definition in the world of what it means to have success.
We say so often, when someone comes into some money, or has a stroke of good fortune…that they are “blessed”. But if we are going to learn anything from the Gospel lesson today, it needs to be “how we judge blessedness” . We cannot continue to let personal wealth or earthly success be the driving force behind who is successful, and who is not.
Let us not say that it is the wealthy who are blessed…but rather the virtuous who are blessed.
Let us not say that the poor are cursed, but rather it is the wicked who are cursed.
We have to stop using the lens of the fallen world as the means with which we measure success, and use rather the lens of the Church….the eternal kingdom…as the way with which we view life.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ let us be careful not to place our acquisition of wealth above our acquisition of virtue. Why does the Christian Church push tithing and giving to charity so often? Because it gives us all an avenue with which to use our material possessions to show love to others. This was the attitude of Abraham. This was the attitude of so many of our saints who were wealthy (St. Nicholas comes to mind). This is the attitude of all those who are numbered and named among the just for eternity.
May our Lord grant us the paradise that comes by living a “successful” life of virtue…allowing us to be unknown to the world…but known for eternity in His heavenly kingdom. Amen, Amen, Amen