St Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
161 N. Murphy Ave. Sunnyvale, CA 94086
20th Sunday After Pentecost

20th Sunday After Pentecost

In the ancient times, people put a large value on wealth and how it affected one in the afterlife. In ancient Greek culture, a coin was placed upon a dead person's mouth in order for them to pay passage on the ferry to pass the river Styx to go to the place of the dead. In ancient Egyptian culture, the Pharaohs had great tombs built. Inside their burial place, there would be placed food and water in order to help sustain the pharaoh's journey to the underworld. In a sense, the ancient culture had a strong belief that wealth would enable one to prosper in the afterlife. Not having these things would mean that one would not be accepted in the place of the dead and would be cast out in torments.

And yet, in the Gospel reading for today, we see a very different picture of the afterlife than what was believed by the ancients. This is in fact one of the only Gospel readings that speaks about the afterlife. In this parable, Christ speaks about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. The rich man lived out his life to the fullest, ate fine foods, drank fine wine, and enjoyed life as much as he could. The poor man Lazarus sat and begged and received nothing. Both men died.

As the Gospel relates, the rich man was "buried" which means that he had a service of burial, with presumably lots of people there, while the beggar was forgotten about. He was probably thrown into an unnamed grave as would be done in that time. And yet, the unexpected happened; the poor man found himself in paradise, or Abraham's bosom; i.e. the place where people went where they expected the coming messiah. On the other hand, the rich man found himself in torments. As it said, he was tormented by the flame. Why did this happen? Why was the man who had so much wealth left to go to a place of punishment, while the beggar was brought up to a place of peace and joy.

There is another verse from the Gospel of Luke which states: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:48). The rich man had much given to him, and he was punished because he did not use it wisely. The poor man Lazarus had little given to him, and so little was required of him.

Metropolitan Damaskenos of Didymoteicho says: "It would be a mistake to say that the cause of the dramatic course of life for both was wealth for one of them and poverty for the other ... This is because the Word of God Himself gives us examples of rich people who were saved and poor people who were condemned. In other words, it is not these material goods per se that save or condemn man, but it's mismanagement... The rich man was condemned to the suffering of hell not for his wealth, but for its mismanagement. He considered that tangible goods were solely his own property, whose sole purpose was his own good. Wealth became his god. He was blinded by greed, so he was indifferent to what was going on around him and to the needs of his fellow humans. Simply put, the reason for his condemnation was selfishness and indifference."

"On the other hand, Lazarus was justified, not again because of his poverty, but for the patience he showed. A patience that led neither to disgust at God nor towards his wealthy fellow man. In this respect, the reason for his salvation and righteousness was to maintain his trust in God and his love for his fellow man. His perseverance to trust God and to believe. The belief that God is his exclusive helper." (Metropolitan Damaskenos of Didymoteicho)

And so it comes to us now, we have two paths that we can follow: either that of the rich man, or that of the beggar Lazarus. I have said this before, but we have so much wealth and riches compared to the people in antiquity. And to repeat the Gospel passage from Luke, it says to whom much is given, much shall be required. So, since we have been given so much: transportation, healthcare, grocery stores, and technology - much will be required of us too. So let us emulate the beggar Lazarus; let us trust God and have love for our fellow man, no matter what befalls us. Let us actually do this and believe wholeheartedly, not just say we do. Actions are what is important. This way when we pass from this life, we too will be taken to a place of paradise, just like the poor man Lazarus.

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