About Almsgiving, and Judgment


          Brothers and sisters!

          Today we heard the extremely instructive parable from the Gospel of Saint Luke in which the Lord Jesus condemns people who misuse their money on themselves and fail to provide for the poor, and who are deaf to the law of God.  When the Lord spoke this parable, it perhaps applied only to a relatively small proportion of the general population.  Today, however, it directly reproves most, especially most in our rich and increasingly faithless country.  So, let us consider carefully what it says, lest we fall under its condemnation as well.

          There was a certain rich man, says Christ, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.  By purple, the Saviour is referring to cloth colored with the dye obtained from the mollusk called murex, which is found in the sea off Tyre in Lebanon, and also in a few other areas of the eastern Mediterranean.  A bolt of the best quality cloth colored with this dye would have cost the equivalent of roughly $10,000,000 in today’s money, according to Emperor Diocletian’s Price Edict, issued about two-and-a half centuries after Christ.  Fine Egyptian linen, used mainly for underclothing and summer wear, would have also been very expensive, although it was cheaper than the purple.  A rich man who dressed thus (in other words, like a king) and held magnificent banquets every day could not exactly be called a miser, for he was quite prepared to spend as much money as it took to make his own life as comfortable and pleasurable as possible.

          There was also, it says, a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table; moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.  Lazarus ate the garbage from the rich man’s house – whatever the household slaves turned up their noses at and was left over after the family’s dogs had their turn at it.  But sometimes there simply was nothing to be had.  Who knows what diseases were raging in Lazarus and causing his flesh to erupt in sores?  Malnutrition and life without proper shelter doubtless made him susceptible to almost every type of infection.  The curs on the streets – not our pampered American pets, but the sickly creatures we see roaming the alleys of today’s Third World countries – enjoyed licking Lazarus’ sores.  He was too weak to drive them away. 

          The rich man of course knew about Lazarus and could have helped him.  He was, as we have already seen, no miser, and was willing to spend on what was important to him.  But money made him heartless.  If the story were set in our day, Christ might have said that the rich man had a big house, a big car, maybe a big boat; had to pay high taxes; and took regular, expensive vacations.  Therefore, despite his substantial income, he probably felt overextended and considered that he could spare little or nothing for the poor.

          When the beggar Lazarus died, angels bore his soul to the bosom of Abraham.  The beggar deserved this, for his suffering in this life if for nothing else.  It does not say that he was taken to paradise, because paradise had not yet been opened by the death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  As a true son of Abraham, Lazarus shared in Abraham’s lot after death, which was a state of hope in the blessedness to come in the Kingdom of the Messiah.  This was the state of all the righteous of the Old Testament from the time of their death until the descent of Christ into Hades and their subsequent translation to paradise.  As for the death of the rich man, Christ says only that he was buried, doubtless with the utmost magnificence, since everything connected with his existence on earth was magnificent.  But then he was plunged into torments.

          From this we can see what a difference there was in the state of the various souls in Hades before the completion of our redemption.  Lazarus was in Hades with Saint John the Baptist, with Abraham, with the other prophets and patriarchs, and was already being comforted.  The rich man was in Hades, too; but he was tormented in the flames.  Even though both were in Hades, there was a great gulf fixed between them.  Much more so after Christ’s Descent into Hades, when the Lord settled the souls of the righteous in heaven.  Then Lazarus and the rich man would have been much further apart.

          Seeing Abraham and Lazarus afar off, the rich man cried, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue!  But Abraham answered that now the situation of the rich man and the beggar was reversed, and that one could not get to the other.  After one’s death, God’s judgment of the soul is unchangeable, except the Lord Himself alter it, in response to the prayers of the living.

          One might imagine that if the rich man had known what awaited him after death, he would have lived quite differently.  But if he had known it as we know the things of this life, it would not have entailed faith and trust in God for him to have acted as he should have.  Rather, he would have been almost compelled to show mercy, and therefore, to have done so would have involved little or no virtue on his part.  The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to earth to tell his five brothers about the terrible fate of sinners.  Abraham, however, replies that people on earth have the law and the prophets, and that if they do not heed them, they will certainly not pay any attention to someone coming back from beyond the grave.  If the parable were set in our own time, Abraham would doubtless say something similar to our present-day freethinkers, but it would carry even more force.  “What!” he would tell them.  “You have the Holy Gospel.  Read it with the fear of God and faith, lest you get completely lost in the labyrinth of your little vain, stupid secular reasonings and in the smoke of your foul passions, and you perish utterly.  If you will not listen to the Lord Himself, to His Evangelists and apostles, you will certainly not listen to someone come back from the dead.  Undoubtedly, you would find many seemingly plausible, logical reasons to explain why no one can come back after he has died.”

          And so, brothers and sisters, let us love the poor and reject the demonic thoughts that urge us to spend all our money on ourselves or to save as much as possible for a rainy day.  The rainiest day of all will come when our soul departs the body.  Give generously to the poor, for in their hands is our salvation.  Almost everyone in America has some money beyond what is necessary to provide for his essentials.  The needy have the first, not the last, claim to this.  In our day this will usually mean the poor in other countries, but it also means needy monastics, who have made themselves poor for Christ’s sake, and occasionally it will mean the needy folk around us, in our own blessed land.  The Scriptures say:  Alms doth deliver from death,1 and, It is better to give alms than to lay up gold,2 and, Alms maketh an atonement for sins,3 and, No good can come to him that giveth no alms.4  Christ teaches the same in today’s Gospel lection.

          Let us remember also, dear Christians, the hour of death and the judgment that follows.  We now have not just Moses and the prophets to instruct us what to do to escape Gehenna, but the Holy Gospel, the words of the Son of God, as well, and they are vastly more compelling than the Old Testament Scriptures.  So, if we behave like the rich man in the parable, then we can only expect our punishment to be far worse than his.  To escape Gehenna and attain the Kingdom of God:  what else in this life could possibly be nearly so crucial!  And so, let us study the Holy Gospel devoutly, reading it faithfully every day, and let us carry out its commandments to the best of our ability.  Especially, let us carry out those commandments which pertain to mercy, compassion, and care for the poor.  Amen.

1. Tobit 4:10

2. Tobit 12:8

3. Eccl. 3:30

4. Eccl. 12:3