Jesus said to the Pharisees, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house -- for I have five brothers -- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
We have here a story of two men whose states, both in this life and in the next, are dramatically opposed. The rich man had everything a man could desire on this earth and he set his heart on this wealth, to such a degree that he excluded all though of God or of what followed after death. It was not that he was ignorant of God or of a future life (Jesus was addressing the parable to the Pharisees); he admits that he had Moses and the prophets, but he paid no heed to them. He was too busy trying to squeeze the last ounce of pleasure out of his few years on earth.
On the other half of the picture we have a beggar, a man not only in dire destitution, but suffering bodily pains as well. He bore his lot patiently. He was quite content if he got the crumbs that fell from the table of the rich man, which he probably did not always get. He must have been disappointed that this rich man never thought of giving him a helping hand but there is no mention of his ever criticizing or blaming him. He left these things to God.
Both men die eventually. The beggar goes straight to heaven to a state of endless happiness. His bodily sufferings have ended forever, and he will never be in want again. The rich man fares very differently. His enjoyments are over forever. His is now in torments and he is told that he can expect no relief. They will have no end. Abraham tells him why he is in his present state: he abused his time on earth. He sees the truth of this. He knows that he has no one to blame but himself which must add greatly to his torments. It is also a cause of additional grief to him that his bad example will lead his brothers (his fellowmen) to a like fate.
All the parables of our Lord are based on everyday happenings. While we hope and pray that the case of the rich man described here is not an everyday occurrence. We cannot doubt but that such cases have happened and will happen again. This rich man is not in eternal torments because he was rich and even very rich, but because he let his wealth become his master and forgot God and his neighbor and his own real welfare, eternal life. There are men like him in our world today, men who completely ignore their real future. While they are convinced that their stay on this earth is of very short duration and that they will have to leave it very, very soon, they still act and live as if they had a permanent home here.
This is true not only of those who try to keep their mjnds all thought of a future life, but even of some who openly profess to be Christians and who recite so often the words of the Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Yet, they are so busy trying to get the wealth and the pleasures of this life, or to increase all they have of them already, that they haven not a moment to spare for the thing that really matters – their future unending life after death.
God forbid that any of us should be numbered amongst these foolish people, for there is no greater folly on earth than to miss the real and only purpose in life because of a few trivial, passing attractions. We are not forbidden to have some of this world’s goods. We need some, and God it was who provided them for our use. But we must use them properly and we must not set them up as idols to be adored. On all sides of us there are Lazaruses placed at our gates by God to give us an opportunity to exercise fraternal charity. Be a true brother to them now and you will not have to envy them hereafter.
Of on the other hand your lot is that of a Lazarus – and many there are whose life is one long, continuing struggle against poverty, disease and hardship – try to carry your cross patiently. Envy of your neighbor and rebellion against God will only add to, and do not cure, your ills. The day of judgment, which for you will be the day of reward, if you are humble and patient, is around the corner. Eternal happiness is worth twenty lives of earthly ill-fortune. Amen.