Friday, November 01, 2013

The Rich Man And Lazarus: An Allegory Of The Soul

  1. I am rich in passions; I am clothed in vile garments of hypocrisy. Through lack of abstinence, I delight in foul deeds, and show a boundless lack of tender-heartedness. Cast before the gates of repentance, I despise my mind, thirsting for every blessing, but ill from lack of concentration. Make me, O Lord, like Lazarus, who was poor in sin, lest I receive no answer when I pray for the finger dipped in water to relieve my burning tongue. Make me to dwell in the bosom of Abraham, as the lover of mankind.
    Verse 10 "Lord I Called" Wednesday Presanctified Liturgy, Week Six.

    Our Gospel reading this Sunday is the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.  

    Those of us familiar with this parable have probably only thought of applying it in a moral sense. That is, we see the parable teaching us that those who fail to care for the poor in this life will suffer fiery regret in the Age To Come. However, those who suffer poverty will be comforted in the next Age. Therefore, we deduce, the parable is teaching us to care for the poor.  

    This moral interpretation is useful. Yes, it is always good to care for the poor—especially the poor at your gate, the poor you see every day. But there is a downside to reading the parable only this way. The downside is that we tend to read the description of the afterlife too literally and atomize the judgment of the life to come. That is, we see all human beings in the Age to Come either burning in torment or comforted by Abraham.  

    However, the Church also reads this parable as an allegory, an allegory of the soul. My soul is the starving and wounded Lazarus, begging at the gate of my life. The sumptuous food and clothing of the parable refer to the way I pamper my appetites while refusing to give any notice to my soul, my spiritual life starving at the gate. Reading the parable this way, each of us seem to face both fire and comfort in the Age to Come—the burning up of the flesh and its passions and the comfort of the impoverished soul.  

    How this works out in the next age, we are not told. The Church only exhorts us to chose to be "poor in sin," like Lazarus while learning abstinence from foul deeds and nurturing tender-heartedness. This is how we prepare for the next life.  

    There is much in my life that will not survive the fire of the Age to Come. All of my sins are forgiven, yes; and the sins of the whole world are also forgiven, for that matter. Yet I have built on the foundation of Christ much that is wood, hay and stubble. These cannot survive in the Kingdom that tests everything by fire (1 Cor. 3:13). Nevertheless, Lazarus will be comforted. And in the Age to Come, I think (for I do not know for certain: "we see through a glass darkly") in as much as I have learned to be poor like Lazarus, that same comfort Lazarus experiences will sustain me as all that is not gold, silver and precious stones passes away.

    This is why we pray for one another, in this life and especially as we pass into the next. Through prayer we can be with each other, even those far away and those departed this life. Many a dying person wants someone just to hold his or her hand. Praying is another way we hold each others' hand.

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