The rich man – let us give him the traditional name Dives which is simply Latin for ‘rich’ – was a family man, he cared about his brothers; nevertheless he was in hell because he cared only for his family. He could have helped Lazarus in his most dire need, but never did; perhaps he never thought of it; however, that would not have excused him because he should have given some thought to Lazarus’ great need, at his very gate. Perhaps he ignored Lazarus because he was simply impervious to and unaware of him, being totally wrapped up in himself and in the present enjoyment and future anticipation of his own pleasures and plenty; if so, that would have greatly increased his guilt.
However, Dives’ lack of charity is not the point I wish to dwell on today, for I think the answer Abraham gave to Dives’ concern for his brothers has much that can be of profit to us who are seeking to become better disciples of Jesus.
If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.
We should recognize, of course, that Jesus is speaking though Abraham’s name is used in the parable, and so, the ‘someone rising from the dead’ is ultimately Jesus Himself; and thus, the parable gives us a remarkable instance of the continuity between the old and the new in God’s dealings with His chosen people.
Moses and the Prophets were sent to the Chosen People of Israel to convict them of their sinfulness by the offer of worldly salvation -- originally from the slavery of Egypt, and then, through subsequent ages, from the belligerent opposition and persecutions of surrounding nations and ‘world’ powers – subject to their humble acknowledgement of, and faithful response to, not only the formative justice of God’s Law in their regard but also to the paternal warmth and sympathetic awareness expressed in the human words of God’s chosen prophets.
Jesus, however, came not to convict, but to invite and to save. He called for disciples in the name of His Father, the God of Israel; inviting them -- as Son -- by the very beauty and goodness of His Person and His truth, to love and learn repentance, as did Peter (Luke 5:8) when, making a remarkable catch of fish:
He fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.’
Thus were they to find and share, in their heavenly Father’s home, an eternal salvation, to be won by the power of Jesus’ self-sacrificing love for God and man.
‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets’ ... Why should they not listen to them? In so far as they would not accept their conviction as sinners, they could not listen to, that is, embrace and respond aright to, Moses and the Prophets; with the result that, through indifference they ignored, or else, through pride and self-love, they rejected, such admonitions and warnings as were given them.
How then could they possibly accept even the most loving invitation and call of Jesus, a self-sacrificing (how they hated such a thought!) Son of Man and of God; One willing to die (though, indeed, on their behalf and for their sins) before taking up His life again in accordance with His Father’s command?
Neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.
In the history of the Church there have been many who have welcomed or sought extraordinary ‘spiritual’ experiences; not necessarily experiences of someone rising from the dead, but certainly something out of the ordinary and something they could experience and perhaps lead or induce others to experience it (or seek to experience it) too. That is how so many of the religious sects which abound in the world today first began. Finding the traditional Church too boring, having too little devotion and too much formality, being too institutionalised, or whatever the fault or the criticism might have been, they sought new and ‘spiritual’ experiences outside the Church. And then that sect, in its turn, became, inevitably, more of an institution, with greater organization and less spontaneity in the eyes of critics, who were dissatisfied thereat and once more went off, on their own, in search of, or following after, personal experiences; and soon, another sect, an offshoot this time from a previous sect, was born. There are literally hundreds and possibly thousands of such Christian sects (and no doubt Muslim, Hindu etc. sects) in the world today.
One could say, perhaps, that the indifference of the many who refused (or just failed) to listen to Moses and the Prophets in old Israel, and of the many ‘nominal only’ Catholics and Christians in the world today, is really the popular, ordinary, manifestation of perennial and pervading dissatisfaction; not only with religion, but also with whatever is considered as institutionalised; indeed with life itself.
Dissatisfaction, however, can be found a great blessing rather than a great temptation or subtle sickness; but, if it is to turn out as God’s work, the true nature of such dissatisfaction must be closely observed and humbly recognized. Dissatisfaction with oneself can be the source of untold blessings from God; dissatisfaction directed against the Church and ones’ brothers and sisters in the Faith is the devil’s work; dissatisfaction with ‘institutions’ and/or with life itself is probably incipient or rampant sickness, unless it is the result of sufferings endured, indeed, but not in any way humbly accepted or positively ‘absorbed’.
God-given dissatisfaction with one’s own self in the Church, whilst recognizing that the Church herself is God’s gift, guided and protected by His Spirit, can force us to seek to delve deeper into that Spirit-guided teaching which the Church proclaims, can constrain us to approach more seriously and sincerely the Sacraments whereby the Spirit flows into our lives, and in so doing can lead us to change our own attitudes, overcome our own lassitude and half-heartedness, and enable us to see more and more of the true beauty and glory of God’s wisdom in the Church’s teaching and learn something of the presence and power of the Spirit Who alone can raise us up to more intimate life in and with Christ.
In the Church we have indeed Moses and the Prophets, but we have more, much more: we have Jesus, the Christ and the beloved, only-begotten, Son of God, Who, through His Apostles and in the power of His Holy Spirit, still speaks to us today. If we do not listen to Him and learn from His Spirit, no miracle, no extraordinary ‘spiritual’ experience can be of any help.
Do you feel dissatisfied, unfulfilled, in your life as a Christian in Mother Church at times? Let that feeling be a blessing from God by recognizing it as dissatisfaction with yourself, and as a call from the Father for you to turn, away from yourself, to Christ, His Son, your Saviour:
In Whom (Colossians 2:3) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;
a call to seek a deeper personal relationship with Him, to understand and love ever more and more, His words brought to mind in their integrity by the Spirit in Mother Church’s teaching; for that has always been the prayer of Paul and the Apostles:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling (of you), what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (showing what He can make of you), and what is the surpassing greatness of His power (to protect and prosper you) toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19)
Beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on you guard lest, being carried away the error of unprincipled men, you fall from you own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:17-18)