Homily for Oct 31 - the itch of the passions.
- Luke 16:19-31
In this parable we see a glimpse of the life beyond the grave. As always,
since this life is beyond our ability to comprehend, this glimpse is given
to us in the form of a parable or a metaphore. In this glimpse into the
life beyond the grave, we see the fate of two very different people.
Lazarus, the poor beggar who had nothing in this world was found in
paradise, having lost the world, he gained his soul. The rich man, on the
other hand ended up in torment - having gained the world, he lost his soul.
The torments of the rich man tell us a little about the nature of the
torments of Hell. There is an undying thirst that cannot be quenched. This
thirst represents our passions. In this world, when we thirst, we drink;
when we itch, we scratch; when we hunger, we eat and so on with all the
passions. In this world we have the opportunity to live according to the
passions, feeding each one whenever it makes its appearance. We indulge all
of our desires, from pride to vanity to hunger to acquisitiveness and so on.
But in the next life, this is not possible. If we have allowed our desires
to run unchecked in this life, then in the next they will still be there,
but there will be no way to satisfy them. We will thirst, but there will be
no water to drink, we will hunger, but there will be no food, we will desire
pleasure, but there will be none. We will be tormented by the itch we
This life is given to us to prepare for eternity. If in this life we
neglect to quell the passions, then we will suffer in the next from them.
However, if, in this life we struggle against the passions and we life a
life of ascesis and self denial, weakening the passions, then in the next
life they will no longer torment us. If we deny the passions in this life,
then in their place we will be able to develop the virtues which will find
their fulfillment in the next life. In this life, when we have the itch of
the passions, we can scratch it and satisfy it, but the "itch" or drive of
the virtues does not find complete fulfillment in this life and they can
only be scratched, that is satisfied, in the next life.
This parable then helps us to understand the eternal effects of how we live
our life in this world. If we live as the rich man, indulging the passions,
ever increasing our attachment to them and to the world in which the are
based, then we are in effect creating our own torment in eternity. We are
creating the itch that can only be scratched in this life and which in
eternity will remain unfulfilled. This is why our Lord said that it is
harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to
pass through the eye of a needle.
The other person in this parable, the beggar Lazarus, is found in the next
life in paradise. But certainly it is not just the absence of passions and
deprivation of the pleasures of the world that bring us to paradise. From
the scripture we know that entry into the Kingdom of God is an active
process. Not only must we deny ourselves and take up our cross, but we must
also follow Christ. From this we see that Lazarus did not only simply
suffer in this world and thereby automatically enter paradise - he must also
have cultivated within himself the qualities that brought him near to
Christ. A poor man, a man who does not have easy access to the pleasures of
the world does not necessarily deny himself. Even a poor man must actively
participate in his salvation. If one is poor, then the "obvious" pleasures
of the world, food, drink, comfort, ease and so on do not seem to be
accessible to him, however, there are other temptations and passions to
avoid. Even when one does not have rich and plentiful food available, a
certain discrimination in the food available becomes both an attachment to
the passion of taste as well as a source of pride in being able to make such
distinctions. Even though clothing may be of poor quality a person in such
a state might develop the passion of vanity in learning to arrange and
choose what clothing he does have to enhance his appearance. The lack of
possessions and one's own general poverty may itself become a source of
pride - pride in what he can do without, pride in his lack of reliance on
worldly goods (when in fact he is more reliant on those few things he has
than a rich man might be on the many things he has). The poor man, seeing
his poverty might also develop a resentment towards the rich man, judging
him for his wealth, considering him to be less than the poor man himself
because of his many possessions. Thus it is that poverty itself does not
lead a man into the kingdom of heaven. Lazarus still was required to exert
a certain effort and to subject himself to the ascetic labor of self denial.
In order to reach paradise, Lazarus must have struggled against his own self
will and pride and rather than falling prey to complaining about what didn't
have and desiring that which he didn't have, he developed within himself
contentment with God's providence, joy in that which our Lord provided, even
though by the standards of the world it seemed to be nothing.
This parable shows us the dangers of attaching ourselves to the things of
this world and focusing our desires on worldly things - whether we have
those things or simply want those things. That which is necessary for our
salvation is to focus all our desire on the Kingdom of Heaven and with no
regard for earthly riches (whether we have them or not) and no regard for
earthly fame and esteem (whether have it or not) or for anything of this
world. Like Lazarus, we set the eyes of our hearts upon the Kingdom of God
and let that desire be the force behind all that we do, the deciding factor
behind everything. If you should happen to receive earthly possessions,
then know that God has given you these things, not for your own use, but as
tools to be used to work out your salvation. Everything that you have
belongs to God, give it back to Him. Give of what you have, whether it be
time, or money, or reputation, or energy, any other worldly thing. Give to
care for the poor, give to further the work of the Church in the world, give
to support the missionary work which spreads the light of the Kingdom of God
whether it be here in this community or across the ocean in a far away land
(or anywhere in between for that matter). Give of all that you have, not
for your own glory and fame, but for the glory of God. St John if Kronstadt
began as the son of a poor and pious deacon in a small town near Archangelsk
in Northern Russia. He never desired fame or fortune, only to serve God.
When God brought him to the city of Krontsadt, one of the greatest naval
ports of the Russian Empire, to serve as rector in the cathedral - he still
continued to give all that he had, even the fame that accrued to himself, to
the glory of God. What funds he had went to the care of the poor and the
support of the Church. He built shelters, almshouses, workshops, hospitals,
clinics, and more. He founded Churches both in Kronstadt and further away.
He himself never rested but was constantly put forth effort serving God.
And God blessed his labor. St John had no money, he had few possessions, he
had no personal backing or fame - but the money was always there, provided
by others who loved God and who were inspired by his almsgiving. More than
a thousand letters, bank drafts and packages a day came through the post to
St John and all that he received he used, not for himself, but for the glory
of God. As his fame grew, he never took credit for it himself but always
gave glory to God for it, saying, "I did not and do not seek fame, it came
to me of itself. I give glory to Him who said, 'for those who honor me, I
will honor'". Thus St John did not desire the honor of men, but only the
honor of God. He accepted worldly honor and worldly wealth only inasmuch as
it gave glory to God through Him. All of his desire was set upon the
Kingdom of Heaven.
This is the example set before us - to set all our desire on the Kingdom of
Heaven, as the Gospel says, "seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven." This is
the path that St John walked, this is the path that the beggar Lazarus
walked and this is the path that is put before us today. Do not set your
hope and desire on the things of the world, but instead seek first the
Kingdom of God. To desire God, to be near Him, to live in Him, to honor
Him - this is the only desire which is fulfilled, the only itch that is
scratched in eternity.
It is as the psalmist says, "One thing have I desired of the Lord and that
will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord."