Second Week of Lent, Thursday
In Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge takes a voyage in time to Christmases past, present and future, and wakes up right after the shock of seeing the headstone of his own grave. Overjoyed and relieved to find himself alive, he immediately seizes the moment to transform his miserly existence to one of magnanimous generosity to the poor and needy. Dickens’ heartwarming classic captures the essence of repentance and personal conversion.
Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (derived from Elazar, “God has helped”) to awaken the living to awareness of the grave in their own hearts. Listeners who travel to Hades with the rich man (Greek plousios, Latin dives) are given the opportunity to experience the mortal anguish of death and burial, and the regret of not having lived generously, detached from riches, for the love of God and neighbor.
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’Luke 16:19-28
The fact that the rich man was moved to pity and mercy for his brothers, desiring their repentance and conversion so as avoid the torment of regret in the afterlife, shows that the parable was directed to hearers who still have a chance to change their lives. The watchful “awaken” from the parable like Scrooge, fully alive and able to make an about-face (metanoia).
The rich man’s confidence that a warning from the grave would effect the cure of the complacent was an illusion confirmed by historical events.
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”Luke 16:29-31
Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (not the poor man of the parable), only intensified the desire of the chief priests to return Lazarus to the grave and kill Jesus as well (John 12:9-11). Above all, the Easter event of Christ’s resurrection had little to no effect on those whose wills were bent on eliminating the life and influence of Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 28:11-15).
Conversion is a mystery. May each day be received as a gift of divine mercy in the ongoing journey of metanoia.
The pity of plousios
Lies buried underground,
But prophetic parables
Turn profiteers around.