We now stand at the midway point of The Church’s Year of Grace. The Church in her wisdom uses God’s Service to teach us each year, Sunday after Sunday, with the same Bible readings, the articles of our Faith, those things which we believe and confess. During the first part of the year she does this by leading us through the life of Christ. During this second part of the year she does this by putting before us His preaching and miracles.
We are no longer following the life of Christ, but today’s Gospel is full of hints of our Lord’s Passion. Somebody has pointed out that this rich man sounds an awful lot like a certain Joseph Caiaphas, which would make his brothers the five sons of Annas, his brothers-in-law, who also served as high priests. You heard him pray not to the true God, but to Abraham, for they rejected the true God when they rejected Christ, though they claimed to be Abraham’s children the whole time. A Lazarus was raised from the dead, but they sought to kill both him and Jesus. Then Jesus rose from the dead, but they still refused to repent. Instead they jailed and killed His disciples. Then there’s the question of whether this is a real story or a parable . . .
But we do not hear this Gospel to deal in these vague subtleties. We want to recognize instead what leads someone to be condemned and what leads someone to be saved. Jesus answers both these questions in today’s Gospel. For you see in the rich man in hell, be he Dives or Caiaphas, the sin he clung to, and you hear in the words of Abraham, your father in the faith, the invitation to give up your sins and love your heavenly Father and be loved by Him.
He was rich. That did not condemn Him. God had blessed him with money and goods. He was clothed with purple cloth and fine linen and he made merry every day luxuriously. That didn’t have to condemn him, except it consumed him. He deified his clothing, his stuff, his fun. He did not use it to help others. He greedily held on to it all. He never missed an opportunity to get even more, whether by hook or by crook, but always within the letter of the law, like Jezebel when she got Naboth’s vineyard for Ahab, so he’d look good. He never missed a chance to have fun, so he’d be totally way cool all the time.
But that wasn’t the end of it. His sins just kept going on and on. He died and was buried, and then in hell he revealed his true sinful nature. He’d lost it all. There was no purple or linen for him there. There was no merriness. He wasn’t cool anymore. In fact he was burning up in the flames and still existing just as much as ever. He was miserable, and he hated it. So he called on Abraham, for he figured he’d be in heaven just because he was descended from him. He called on him for help, mostly just because he wanted to boss around dear ol’ dad, and not just him, but especially that beggar who he always wished would just disappear from his front porch.
Dives’ core sin was his selfishness, his pride. He worshiped his ancestry because he hoped his father would love him just the way he was. He forgot that dads throw their kids out of the house if they get too bad. He didn’t even care to notice how bad he was. He was no prodigal son who came to his senses. He gave himself over to his selfish self and worshiped it and desired all things to serve him. He made himself his own god. He pretended to worship the true God and do the right things, but it was all a ruse. He was all about he, himself, and him; nobody better get in his way. Therefore he was condemned.
How can you escape his fate? For you are born of the same selfish stock. It was selfishness that lost Adam paradise, for it drove him to eat what was forbidden. It was selfishness that led the ancients to build Babel. It was selfishness that drove Caiaphas to murder the Christ. And it is selfishness that causes us to hate and not love, to pridefully despise others and not humbly respect them, to care only about the wants of me, myself, and I, and not at all about the needs of others. Examine yourself and see. Do not such sins lurk in your heart? Do they not wish to come out and play? Do they not wish to overcome you and control you?
Therefore repent. Desire to be better. But that’s not the main thing of repentance. Be sorry for your sins. Be sorry that you have offended your father. But not just Abraham or your own dad; your heavenly Father – you have offended Him with your sins. Your pride and selfishness have offended Him. They have thrown Him out of your heart. They have become your gods. Be sorry for this. Be sorry that you have offended God, that you have not let Him stand on the pedestal of your heart. Be truly sorry for your sins – and listen to Moses and the Prophets.
What do they say? They do tell you to repent of your sins; you have broken all God’s commandments. But then they teach you to pray: “Lord, be merciful unto me; heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.” Moses and the Prophets weren’t written just to give you a bad day, to put an end to your partying, to make you feel bitter and sad and dreary all summer long. They were written to point you to The Cross of Christ.
So it is that Dives or Caiaphas or whoever he is was slightly correct. He claimed his brothers would repent if Lazarus rose from the dead. The problem was he asked for the wrong man. Lazarus was raised. But then Caiaphas in response said: “It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” He said it because he had deified in his heart Israel’s place in the world. He knew the coming of Messiah meant the end of their special place in the world, and he wanted to keep that at all costs. He wanted to keep his power, which Messiah had to take from him. So he killed Him, and the house of Annas did not repent. But that’s the Man Who rose that you might repent.
The Word of His Resurrection has come to you. What the Prophets foretold the Apostles have proclaimed. They still speak to you. They speak whenever you hear the words they wrote. What do they tell you? They tell you that God has had mercy on you. Though you have sinned against Him, though you have been full of yourself and empty of Him, when you were still a sinner Christ died for you, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He considered that you were poor in spirit, lacking anything that would force Him to give you heaven, and has delivered you from your sins by His bloody merit.
There is nothing good you can do to please God. Your sinful, mortal nature is far too weak. But Jesus died for you. He died to give you heaven. He died so He could send you His Spirit Who will help you please Him in will and deed by keeping His Commandments. He empties us of our pride and selfish motivations and loves us and that love causes us to love others and show that love in what we do. For you belong to Him. He has made you to be another Lazarus, another Eliezer. For this is the mystery of salvation: you are saved when you confess: “My God Helps.” God helps. “Our help is in the Name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” He gives salvation. You don’t earn it. You can’t please God on your own. He leads you to repent of your sins and believe the Gospel. He helps you please Him, for only faith pleases Him and can do what is good. Only faith rejects selfish pride and focuses on Jesus only.