The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus |
Hell is a place where nothing will soothe the savage beast. This everlasting region of Hades is where those are headed who do not live all that Christ uncompromisingly taught for in hell there are no second chances. Hell is so very final!
Father James F. Wathen
"Men, the world over, have access to the testimony of the Apostles in the New Testament, to Christís sinless life, His divine revelation, His miracles, and especially, His resurrection. They are, therefore, without excuse for not belonging to the Church which He established through them. They listen to the groundless, cynical objections of nonbelievers and thereby justify their own unbelief and their evil and unprofitable lives. They will, however, once deceased, meet the Risen Christ, Who will pronounce judgment upon them."
The Gospel reading from last Thursday after the Second Sunday of Lent is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. It is because of a misreading of this parable that many have erroneous ideas about Hell and those who go there. The first thing to know is that our Lord addressed His words both to the Pharisees and to His disciples. In the Masses of Lent, a number of the Gospel readings have been chosen to show us how our Savior inveighed against the Jewish leaders with persistent aggressiveness and condemnation. He addresses this parable to them to condemn their love of money and the smug comfort which they enjoyed. The Pharisees were supposed to be religious leaders and examples to the people; they claimed to be exemplary in their observance of the Law and that the people should look to them as models of righteousness.
Our Lordís conflict with the Pharisees began early and continued throughout His public ministry, becoming more fierce and sharp as the months went by. All this was quite deliberate on Christís part. He saw it as His duty to confront them with their sins and to expose their hypocrisy and corrupt religiosity to His disciples and the people. This was a part of His mission. In this way also He taught the true morality to which all are bound. Thus did He make it clear to His enemies why they would be dispossessed and their place would be given to others, namely, the Apostles.
The Lord Jesusí manner, you will observe, was not that of the modern Church, which considers that it is bad, uncharitable, and unchristian to fight Godís enemies and those of the Church. The modern Church teaches that all conflict should be avoided, and we should "live and let live," in no way opposing error and wickedness. Of course, that is exactly what any aggressor wants, to be given an open field to deceive and destroy. It does not need to be said that those in authority in the Church are the accomplices of the its enemies.
Luke 16:19. "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day."
The parables have one main point; the attendant details may be accurate, or they may not be. The main point in this parable is that the rich man lived only for himself. He lived a completely selfish and indulgent life. His sin was made worse by the fact that he did and cared nothing for the helpless beggar outside his door. The haughty Pharisees likewise cared nothing about anyone else, though they thought of themselves as virtuous and above criticism. They had no interest in what Christ said to them, because He was a nobody without credentials.
16:20-21: "And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores,
desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. And no one did give him: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."
Nothing is said of Lazarusí virtue, only his pitiable circumstances. All the emphasis is on the hardheartedness of the rich man.
16:22. "And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell."
Notice our Lordís representation of Limbo: "the bosom of Abraham." Lazarus is not in Heaven, but he is in a place of rest and comfort.
16:23. "And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom."
Our Lord pictures the rich man in a place like Hell, in that it is a place of fiery misery without respite, a place of unabated punishment. Our Lord is telling the Pharisees what is in store for them if they continue as they are.
This parable tells us clearly that the Jews before Christís coming did believe in everlasting punishment. In the Old Testament, there is the description of the damnation of the angels, but no mention of men being consigned to suffer their fate. Our Lordís hearers do not treat His words as if they are something never before thought of.
16:24. "And he cried and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame."
In reality, no one in Hell ever begs either Abraham or God Himself for mercy. Those in Hell, fallen angels and lost souls alike, want nothing to do with God, Whom they hate. They are there because they prefer being there in such hopeless misery to being with God, Whom they must obey. If this seems incomprehensible, of course it is. It is a mystery why anyone would go to Hell, as it is a mystery why anyone would hate God. But men reveal their aversion to God and His sovereignty with every mortal sin they commit.
I said above that many have an erroneous idea of Hell because they misread this parable. Here the rich man is described as someone for whom we might be moved to pity, and for whom we might wish some relief. In reality, those in Hell are not pitiable, because they are hateful, full of self-love, and without remorse. Damned souls are like the fallen angels, who do all they can to destroy souls, in order to vent their hatred of God.
16:25-28 "And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you cannot, nor from thence come hither. And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments."
Presumably, the manís five siblings are living as he did. Lazarus would be sent to them to testify that Hell really exists and that they should take warning. In reality, those in Hell would never implore God for their brethren on earth, as a lost soul would never return to earth to warn someone about how horrible the sufferings of Hell are. Our Lord frames the story in this fashion to teach a further lesson:
16:29. "And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them."
And this is the lesson: Those who want to know Godís truth have it within their reach. God provides it to all who will receive it. He is no way limited in His power to communicate with anyone who will listen to Him. Sinners and unbelievers are deaf to Him because they choose to be.
16:30. "But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance."
Here the rich man is asking for a special favor for his brethren on earth who are living as he lived.
16:31. "And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead."
Abraham (and our Lord) answers that even a miracle would have no effect. The proof of this fact will be seen in the manner in which the Pharisees respond to Christ, Who worked one miracle after another. Finally, He did die and came back from the dead. Our Lordís enemies were not only not converted; they persecuted those who said that He had risen, and did all they could to suppress the truth. To this day, the descendants of the Pharisees manifest an identical arrogance and oppose the truth of the Resurrection with unrelenting obduracy.
The case continues the same. Men, the world over, have access to the testimony of the Apostles in the New Testament, to Christís sinless life, His divine revelation, His miracles, and especially, His resurrection. They are, therefore, without excuse for not belonging to the Church which He established through them. They listen to the groundless, cynical objections of nonbelievers and thereby justify their own unbelief and their evil and unprofitable lives. They will, however, once deceased, meet the Risen Christ, Who will pronounce judgment upon them.
I wish to thank again everyone who is praying for me and to beg him to continue. I thank everyone who has sent me his best wishes and assurances of prayers, and those who have sent gifts of money for my material needs. I send everyone my priestly blessing, encouraging him to make a generous Lent.
Father James Wathen
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