“And he said unto him, ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’” [St. Luke 16:31]
In our Gospel lesson for today, we have the very famous tale of the rich man and Lazarus. Now, as you know, I was an English Major in College. So, the subtleties of Jesus’ parables have always struck me as being very important. And what really struck me this time as I read the lesson for today is the fact that the rich man has no name, yet Lazarus, the poor beggar, does. In fact, besides Abraham, he is the ONLY person with a name.
Now, think about this: Whose names do we know? In this world, we know the famous, like Tom Cruz, the infamous like Lindsay Lohan, and the rich like Donald Trump. We do not know the poor, or even the average, or those who have no fame. For all of us who do not attain notoriety, we live rather anonymous lives.
Andy Warhol once said that, in the future, each person would have 15 minutes of fame. But even those 15 minutes are fleeting and evaporate very quickly. You may be able to remember the winner of the first year of Survival, or this year’s American Idol, but how many others can you remember yet alone name. No, for most of us, even if we get 15 minutes of fame, it is rather fleeting and our notoriety evaporates as quickly as the morning dew.
Yet, this is not how it is in God’s kingdom. Those who have the greatest notoriety in heaven are those who have no name on earth. And the poor, the disenfranchised, the untouchables, and all of those who society forgets or never bothers to even know, not only have a name in heaven, they have a place of honor. In heaven, THEY are the famous ones.
This reminds me of the story of the Pope who dies and goes to heaven. When he meets St. Peter at the pearly gates, St. Peter says, “Welcome Pope. Heaven is a very large place, so, in order to get around, we will provide you with a car. And you will also get a place to live.” And the Pope said, “Oh thank you! I am just so happy to be here, but to get a car AND a place to live is more than generous.”
St. Peter smiled and said, “I am glad that you are so pleased. Well here are the keys to your VW Bug and your keys to your condo, and welcome to heaven!”
So the Pope jumped into his car and started driving to his condo. As he was driving, though, a very long stretch limo passed him. The Pope looked into the car, and low and behold he recognized the only passenger.
Well, eventually the Pope got to his condo, which was a very nice one-bedroom condo. So, he decided to take a walk around the neighborhood. As he was walking, he happened upon a palatial mansion, and as he looked in the window, he saw the same man who was a passenger in the stretch limo. NOW the Pope was VERY puzzled. He jumped into his VW Bug and sped to where St. Peter was.
When he got to St. Peter, the Pope said, “St. Peter, you know I am very happy to be here, and I am very satisfied with what you have given me, but forgive me, I am confused about something. I have seen this man, a man I have known, riding in a stretch limo and living in a palatial mansion, and yet I have only a condo and a VW Bug, and I was the POPE. Please, I am confused, can you explain this to me.”
St. Peter just smiled and said, “I understand your confusion, but you have to understand. You are our, what, 300th Pope? But this man is our first attorney!”
Although everyone enjoys this joke, especially since attorneys are and have been universally reviled, there is actually an important lesson here – a lesson also contained in our Gospel parable for today:
But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
Is Abraham saying that there is some sort of inverse relationship? Is he saying that if we are rewarded in this world, we WILL suffer in the next? Or is there more?
Christianity, in many ways, is an eastern religion, but this parable almost sounds like some sort of Karma. However, this would be too simplistic of an answer. Rather, Christ is saying, though there is no justice in this world, heaven is different. What it prizes and what it values is different than what the world values. Where we value wealth, fame, and power, heaven and God values meekness, kindness, generosity, and humbleness.
In order to understand the differences between this world and the next, we must look at both the seven deadly sins and the seven Godly virtues. The seven deadly sins are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. These seven deadly sins are fatal to spiritual growth. They prevent us from being what God wants us to be and more. They are sins that place something ABOVE God. They create an idol that we worship instead of God; they REPLACE God.
Greed is the sin in which the rich man in our parable must have engaged. He placed money, mammon, above God. He sought immortality through accumulation, thinking that he would live through the wealth he passed to his family. But that is false and illusory.
Sloth, envy and pride are similar. In all three sins, we place OURSELVES above God. With sloth, we think the world should revolve around us and that everything should be given to us without us having to do any work. Envy says that no one else deserves what we do NOT have. We are superior to our brother, so they should not get anything that we have or what we do NOT have. But of these three sins, Pride is the most deceitful. It says that we are BETTER than God. We achieve all; nothing comes from God or others. Pride caused angels and many men to fall.
Lust, gluttony, and wrath are related. Lust and gluttony place the pleasures or needs of our body above God. We can see of nothing better, so we pursue these pleasures and ignore God. With wrath, we place what we want above what God wants. We want revenge, justice, or retribution, and we want it on our own terms. We do NOT trust God to do what is right. And we believe that WE know all, placing ourselves in a position equal to God. But wrath has an added danger. When we let wrath run our lives, we leave ourselves open to the devil. Wrath clouds our minds and our understanding, and we seek revenge even though God tells us that vengeance is His.
These are the sins that drive a wedge between us and God. Yet for these Seven Deadly Sins, there are opposite virtues, the Seven Godly Virtues. The virtues are faith, hope charity, justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. These are also described as chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.
Each of these virtues is a counterweight to the sins described above. They emphasize our relationship with God, and keep Him where He should be. We place no idol in God’s stead. And we do NOT hold ourselves equal to or superior to God. But none of these virtues will make us famous.
Having faith, having hope, having love for yourself AND others will not earn you a star in Hollywood. Being just without being judgmental will not earn you a television show. Being prudent, having self-control, or engaging in temperance will not get your name in the paper. And finally, having the fortitude to work through those crosses life has given you to bear will most likely not get you on Oprah or Jerry Springer. No, none of these virtues will earn you a place of honor in our world, but they WILL in the next.
There comes a time for all of us to decide what is really important. Is it to have a name here on earth or up in heaven? Only we can decide, but that decision will change our lives and our destinies.
And just because we may start out following one path does NOT mean we cannot change. I changed. I left the path of the Seven Deadly Sins to follow a new path, one that will provide me no fame in this world, but one I know will give me life in the next. Each of us must choose, and I hope we all choose the same path; the path Joshua chose when he said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” [Joshua 24:15].