Memory eternal.

Homily 283 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 22, 2017

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Blessed Theophylact was a Byzantine biblical commentator in the late 11th century. He was the Bishop of Ochrid, and Metropolitan of the Church in Bulgaria.

He wrote extensively on the text of the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, and provides some perspective on passages and teaching.

Of today’s Gospel, he tells us quite clearly that Jesus tells a parable. It is not a real account of an actual event.

However, this parable does involve real principles of how the world works, and real insight into the way we navigate this life for the one which is to come.

This account follows closely on the preceding passage. In that passage, Jesus utters the famous words – you cannot serve both God and mammon.

So that is our context. He elaborates by telling this account of a rich person, and a poor beggar named Lazarus at his front gate.

The people are diametrically opposed to one another in status, in comfort, in happiness.

The extremes are vivid. The rich man was not just rich – he was always living in luxury. Not just every now and then, but every single moment of his life was spent ensuring extravagance.

Lazarus, on the other hand, was starving, sick, with open sores. And confronted every day with the extravagance occurring on the other side of the gate.

And experiencing all of this torment without complaining, without bitterness or callousness.

Enough that when he died, angels came to accompany him – the angels are an indication of righteousness.

And the rich man died. Theophylact says that while he still lived the soul of the rich man had been buried alive, entombed within his own flesh.

It makes the situation that much more real.

And we’re not led to believe that the rich man achieved his wealth in a sinful manner, nor that Lazarus voluntarily chose worldly poverty and sickness.

That is just the way things were. And we’re reminded that spiritual wealth and spiritual poverty do not have anything to do with material wealth or material poverty.

Unlike the beliefs of the prosperity preachers, or even the principles of the puritans and Calvinists by whom our nation was founded.

You may have heard, God helps those who help themselves. But that isn’t in the Bible. It is found in Ancient Greek tragedies, but was made famous by Benjamin Franklin. Not Jesus Christ.

Jesus really had little interest in material things of any kind.

It isn’t the material that results in punishment or comfort. It is spiritual.

We thank God for our material blessings, and we acknowledge that He gives what we need. But material blessings should never be a measure by which we evaluate our standing before God.

And God knows our needs. And he knows our spirit.

All we have to decide is to be thankful for what is given to us, and to be generous with what is given to us by God.

Lazarus, it is not said explicitly but implied by the way the angels came for his soul, that he was thankful for what he had, even thankful for illness and hunger and scorn.

Because thankfulness and acceptance leads us to God. And everything that leads us to God is by definition good.

Lazarus was found in the bosom of Abraham, because Abraham was the one who offered hospitality to the stranger, to the traveler.

In contrast to the rich man who offered nothing to the person who lived literally in his courtyard, at his gate.

So, we have to be thankful. And we have to be generous. This is how we find acceptance in the eyes of God.

This is how we find, like the Apostle St. Paul, the ability to be content in both comfort and poverty.

The Church offers us a path to take us to this point – to train us in this ability.

It is an ascetical path, one of self-denial.

Fasting. Prayer. Almsgiving.

The path that leads to being thankful always, being generous always, loving always.

So that we might find ourselves in a place of comfort, of peace, of light, of life.

So that we might find ourselves in God’s memory forever.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.