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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

This chapter contains the parable of the unjust Steward, with its suggestive lesson of the prudence of salvation (1–9). It also contains instructions on the subjects of covetousness, fidelity to grace, the indissolubility of marriage (10–18); and concludes with the history of the life, hard-heartedness, and the frightful torture and despair of the rich glutton condemned to the everlasting fire of hell (19–31).

1. It is disputed among Commentators, whether the following parable was spoken immediately after the three preceding ones, at the same time and in the same place. The common opinion, to which the adversative and connecting particle, δε (but), adds much force, is, that it was uttered immediately after them. By a very natural connexion, our Lord, after having reproved the Pharisees, who murmured at His mild treatment of sinners, now directly addressing His followers in general, unto the end of time, points out, how wealth should be employed; that almsdeeds are to be added to penance, in order to obtain the grace of repentance for sinners, and perseverance for the just, almsdeeds being obligatory on all. This was, no doubt, indirectly intended for the Pharisees, whose griping avarice, which made them “deride Him” (v. 14), He censures in this parable. By the example of the unjust steward, He wishes to show the avaricious Pharisees and all rich men, to the end of time, the prudence they should practise in regard to spiritual matters, the alacrity with which they should shut up “alms in the heart of the poor, as it shall obtain help against all evil” (Eccles. 29:15).

The word, “steward,” as appears from the Greek—οικονομος—means, a dispenser, who has charge of all his master’s goods. The Vulgate term, “villicus,” would refer to a land-steward in charge of the farm. Here it is taken in a wider signification (vv. 5–7). “Was accused.” The Greek word means, denounced, charged.

“Wasted,” by luxurious living; or, by ill-conceived generosity in bestowing presents and the like. It need hardly be remarked that, in their spiritual application, the words, “the rich man” denotes Almighty God, the Sovereign Lord and Master of all, to whom belongs every thing, the earth and its fulness.

By “the steward,” is meant, man, His creature, to whom He confided His goods, whether gifts of fortune, of nature, or of grace, to be employed, not for man’s own individual advantage; but, for the benefit of His Master, whose steward he is, in the manner He enjoins, and for His honour and glory. From this entire passage, we can clearly see, that in relation to God, whatever may be said of rights secured by human law—no man is absolute proprietor or master of anything he possesses. He is a mere steward or dispenser, and in order to discharge the first duty of every steward, viz., fidelity (1 Cor. 4:2), he must employ his master’s goods solely for his master’s profit. From this, we may also see, that the more God has entrusted to us, the greater the goods of fortune, the gifts of nature or grace confided to our stewardship, the greater shall be the return we must make Him, the heavier our accountability, and the stricter the account demanded at our hands; so that, instead of glorying in the magnitude or multitude of the talents bestowed on us, we should rather tremble at the account we are one day to render of them.

2. The master summons his accused steward, states the charge made against him, and calls for an account of his stewardship.

“For, now thou canst be steward no longer,” which may mean, that unless, after due investigation, he cleared himself of these charges, in the act of rendering an account, he shall be discharged—Justice would demand he should not be condemned, before due inquiry—or, it may mean, that the notoriety and certainty of his guilt involved dismissal on the spot, and the feelings of the steward himself (verse 3), would convey that, he knew his own guilt, which involved consequent dismissal. In their spiritual application, these words refer to the dread summons issued to every one at the hour of death, to part for ever with their temporal goods, and render an account of their administration. What a dreadful summons to us all! What a momentous account, on the issue of which will depend an eternity of happiness or woe!

3, 4. Here we have, without any very direct bearing or significance in the aim of the parable,—what, probably, should be regarded as ornamental,—the ingenious contrivance which occurred to the steward for providing against the evil day, when dismissed from the office of steward, upon which, most likely, his livelihood depended. He promptly resolves on a course which, although a fresh proof of his dishonesty, shows, at the same time, his worldly prudence and tact in providing against the evil day. “They may receive me,” that is, give me support and maintenance in my necessities.

How applicable are the words, “To dig I am not able; to beg I am ashamed,” to the sad, desolate condition of those who, from their own misconduct and misuse of God’s gifts, spiritual and corporal, are painfully deprived of those occupations, as well sacred as profane, on which their livelihood depended. Having been once “the salt of the earth,” and having “lost savour,” they are cast out and utterly degraded, being trodden under the feet of men.

5–7. This shows he had general charge of his master’s goods. “Every one of his lord’s debtors.” So that his fraudulent conduct would be less liable to suspicion than if he only called some, and that all might be under obligation to treat him kindly and generously in the day of need. These two debtors mentioned in verses 5–7, are only examples of all the rest; for he called “every one of his lord’s debtors,” and, no doubt, treated all in the same way, proportionally, as he treated these two. “An hundred barrels of oil.” “Barrels,” Greek—βατους—a word derived from the Hebrew; in Syriac, Matreion, derived from the Greek. “Barrel”—Batus—was of equal measure with an Ephi—Batus, for liquids; Ephi, for solids—and each contained the tenth part of a corus, or quarter, as in next verse (Ezechiel 45, v. 11).

7. “An hundred quarters of wheat.” “Quarters,” in Greek, κορους. Every corus (“quarter”) was equivalent to ten cadi (“barrels”) in liquids, and ten Ephi, in solids. Hence, the stewards remitted more to the second debtor, to whom he remitted but twenty quarters out of the hundred, than he did to the former, although he remitted fifty out of the hundred, since twenty cori, or “quarters,” contained far more than was contained in fifty cadi or “barrels.”

“Take thy bill,” in Greek, γραμμα, his note of hand, the written instrument securing payment, kept in the hands of the steward. This note of hand, the steward hands back to each debtor, for the purpose of destroying it and writing out a new one containing a lesser amount. He tells him to do that “quickly,” implying secrecy, and every one to do it, implying, that it was done by each one separately.

“And the lord commended,” &c., that is, “the lord” of the unjust steward, whose goods were squandered, on learning how prudently he acted from a worldly, selfish point of view, although naturally indignant at the injustice committed against himself, and this fresh proof of his steward’s dishonesty, still could not help commending the dexterous cunning—“acted wisely”—displayed by him with a view to his own future interests. “The lord,” refers to the injured master of the steward, and not to our Lord Jesus Christ, as appears from the next verse, where our Lord speaks of Himself, “I say to you,” &c., in pointing out the moral of the parable.

The force of the conclusion would be greater in the interpretation, which understands “Lord,” of the injured master of the steward. For, then it would be an argument a minori ad majus, as St. Augustine understands it to be (Lib. 2, Quæst. Evangel. Quæst. 34), conveying, that if the rich man praised the dexterity of his unjust steward, how much more will God commend and reward His faithful servants, who dispense the goods He confided to them according to His good will and pleasure.

Observe, the commendation of the master has not for object the dishonest act of his unjust servant. It is exclusively confined to the prudence he displayed in it. He commended him, “because he had done wisely.” “What is commended, then, on the part of the unjust steward, is his cunning, his cleverness, and this by his temporal lord only. If it be said that at least his example is proposed by our Lord, for our imitation, we answer, not in all respects, and only inasmuch as he showed great prudence and zeal in gaining his end. The steward acted unjustly; and no one was less likely to praise him for that, than the master whose goods he wasted; but he acted also prudently, cleverly, according to the wisdom of the flesh, determined, as far as he could, not to lose all when deprived of his place; and for that foresight, he is praised even by his injured master. When St. Paul calls on the Romans to serve justice unto sanctification with the same zeal with which they served iniquity before (Rom. 6:19), does he thereby approve of the object of their former zeal? We may praise the actor’s skill without approving the play, or the robber’s courage without extolling felony, or even the duellist’s aim without extenuating the fearful guilt of murder. It is the prudence of the steward, and that alone, and not his unjust conduct, that is eulogized. The wisdom of the children of this world is praised, not the end to which that wisdom is directed, as is more evident still from what follows. The enemies of Christianity labour, therefore, in vain to find in these words any commendation of injustice” (Dr. MacCarthy, in hunc locum).

“For the children of this world,” a Hebrew phrase, as are also the words, “children of light.” These are the words of our Redeemer, conveying to us, that the votaries of this darksome world, and those who live according to its ideas and maxims—so opposed to truth and “light”—“are wiser in their generation,” in adopting means for attaining their worldly ends, and securing perishable riches—the only thing worldlings value and esteem—“than the children of light,” the sons of God, who profess to live by the light of the Gospel, which God has mercifully shed upon them, are, in the adoption of proper means for securing their end, the enjoyment of imperishable goods and eternal happiness. Our Lord adds this, lest He might appear to commend the dishonest conduct of the steward. He only refers to the steward’s conduct, in order to stimulate His followers to greater zeal in attaining their end, than worldlings do in attaining theirs. By contrasting the prudence of worldlings, “the wisdom of the flesh, which is death,” with the prudence of His followers; or “the children of light,” which is “the wisdom of the spirit, which is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6), our Lord wishes His followers to display greater zeal in their way, than worldlings do in theirs. Here naturally suggests itself the solemn reflection on the wisdom of salvation. As the wise man refers the sluggard to the industry of the little ant, so our Lord refers us to the industry and care which worldlings employ in their business in attaining their worldly ends. What is every other wisdom, but folly, unless it conducts us to the end of our creation? What can everything else avail, if we miss this? “Quid prodest homini si universum mundum?” &c. What comparison between the passing gratification of the brutal passions of the body, in which we are become like the brute beasts, “the horse and mule that have no understanding”—gratification, which lasts but a moment, and is succeeded by bitterness and remorse—and the eternal enjoyment of the spiritual and heavenly delights, for which the immortal soul of man is made?

9. “And I say unto you.” This is the conclusion drawn from the above parable by our Lord for the guidance of His followers at all times. “I” and “you,” are very emphatic. The steward said to himself, I know what I shall do; I shall make friends for myself of my master’s debtors. I say also to you, imitating the steward’s cunning and prudence, do you also make friends for yourselves out of the unjust, unrighteous mammon, which your Sovereign Master has deposited in your hands, to be dispensed by you, as faithful stewards, according to His will, by laying up your riches in the bosom of the poor, “that when you shall fail,” and shall be deprived of the stewardship at the hour of death, when you shall be called upon to render an account of your dispensation, “they,” like the master’s debtors, whom the steward desired to conciliate in order to be admitted into their houses, “may receive you into” their houses, in the kingdom which is properly theirs (Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20), houses, or “tabernacles,” which are to endure for ever.

“Mammon of iniquity,” a common Hebraism for unrighteous, iniquitous mammon. “Mammon” is a Syriac word, signifying riches (Matthew 6:24). Riches are termed iniquitous or unjust—μαμμωνα της αδικιας—for several reasons, either, because they are, generally speaking, the fruit of injustice on the part of our forefathers, by rapine, plunder, &c., or, on our own part. Hence, the common phrase, “dives aut injustus aut hæres injusti,” quoted by St. Jerome (Ep. 1, ad Hebridiam, Quæst. 1), and as the heir of injustice knows not precisely to whom he should make restitution, he should give it to the poor; or, because they occasion injustice in their possessors, unless greatly on their guard, such as pride, avarice, luxury. In this way St. Paul terms concupiscenco “sin,” being the cause and effect of sin, “quod habitat in me peccatum” (Rom. 7:17); or, because, it is the unrighteous or unjust alone, that regard riches as their sovereign good, place their whole trust in them, and value them unduly, although false, deceitful, and transitory, never satisfying the human heart; the just, on the other hand, in possessing riches, regard them as transitory, and value heavenly riches alone; or, because, men often regard the riches they possess as absolutely their own, whereas, in reality they are God’s, to whom belongs the earth and its fulness. Men, in reference to God, hold them by the mere title of dispensation or stewardship. This latter meaning well suits the parable, in which God is signified by the “rich man.” We are only stewards, who unjustly employ for our own selfish ends what belongs to Him. Riches are not unjust or unrighteous of themselves, but only in their abuse.

“When you fail.” When at death, you are called upon to render an account of your stewardship, now to be taken away from you.

“They may receive you,” or, rather, God shall admit you, owing, in some cases, to their intercession, into His heavenly kingdom, which is peculiarly the inheritance of the poor; but He shall do so, especially in consideration of the pure motive of charity, which dictates the giving of alms to the poor, which are, therefore, given to Himself, whom they represent. This latter reason will hold, whether there be question of the faithful and just poor, themselves occupants of heaven, or of the unjust poor excluded from it, when we relieve them for God’s sake, whom in their poverty they represent.

“Into everlasting dwellings,” which peculiarly belong to the poor, as such. No doubt, many among the poor shall be excluded, who die impenitent, and many among the rich admitted, who shall merit by their charity the graces necessary to fulfil the other precepts of God. For, mere alms-giving will not save; but, alms-giving will move God to grant forgiveness of sin and the graces necessary for salvation. The rich have great difficulties in gaining heaven; and from this passage, it is clear, that unless they discharge the duty of alms-giving, they shall be excluded from God’s everlasting kingdom. “Everlasting,” solid, enduring mansions, in opposition to these dwellings “made with hands” in this world, whose duration is but temporary.

From this entire passage is clearly seen the duty of relieving the poor by alms-giving, under pain of exclusion from the kingdom of heaven. We are mere stewards of the goods we possess in this world. If we appropriate them to our own use, instead of dispensing them according to the will and for the interests of our Master, we act the part of unjust, unfaithful stewards; and we shall be excluded from God’s everlasting mansions, when the accounting day arrives.

The precept of alms-giving may be also clearly seen from the providence of God in the present order of things. While arranging the unequal distribution of earthly goods, He appoints the rich as His own stewards and representatives in regard to His poor. In order to bind together more firmly the several members of the great human family, He has ordered that they should mutually depend on each other, as He has done in regard to the several members of the human body; and He has made the reciprocal exhibition of love, the great bond of indissoluble union. When the rich, then, neglect to succour their indigent brethren, and follow not the example of Him whose place they hold, Who “opens His hand and fills every animal with benediction;” Who “makes His sun from heaven rise on the good and bad, and rains upon the just and the unjust,” they become instrumental in subverting the order of Providence, established by God. Through them His name is blasphemed; and an order of things established directly at variance with His divine ordinances; and their neglect made chargeable, with wicked men, on His infinite goodness and wisdom. Hence, our Lord regards the salvation of a rich man as so very difficult; because, it is so hard to find a rich man who complies, to the requisite extent, with the precept of relieving the poor.

The same precept is clearly referred to (1 John 3:17), where He condemns those who, having a knowledge of their neighbour’s wants, and the means of relieving him, still neglect doing so. Also, James 1:13–27; 2:15; Matthew 25:34–46. The same may be also clearly seen from the fate of the hard-hearted rich man, whose history and miserable end are given towards the close of this chapter, vv. 19–31.

10–12. Our Redeemer would seem to have for object in these three verses, to inculcate charity towards the poor, and the faithful discharge, on the part of the rich, of their office as stewards, in the dispensation of the goods of this world, which, properly speaking, are God’s. This He inculcates, on the ground, that infidelity in the discharge of their office, of properly dispensing temporal goods, would entail the withholding or withdrawal from them, of spiritual goods, and their final exclusion from the eternal bliss, for obtaining which spiritual gifts and graces are indispensable. He also inculcates due correspondence with spiritual graces, and the proper use of them.

“He that is faithful in that which is least,” &c. This is an adagial expression, founded on the common opinion of mankind and experience, conveying what generally happens. It is understood of fidelity or want of fidelity in small things, arising from an innate principle of honesty or dishonesty. Men who find their servants honest in small things, regard them as deserving of credit in regard to great things. Hence, we find the reward given in the Gospel, “quia super pauca fuisti fidelis, super multa to constituam,” &c. “The least” and “little,” are generally understood of temporal matters, which are “little” compared with spiritual treasures; and “greater,” of the more precious treasures of the spiritual life. The man, who is not faithful in the administration of temporal goods, according to the will of God, shows that he does not deserve to be intrusted with the spiritual treasures of grace, which he would be sure to employ unprofitably. “Si quis domui suæ præsse nescit, quomodo Ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?” (1 Timothy 3:5)

11. This is an inference from the foregoing adage, “If you have not been faithful,” in the dispensation of “unjust mammon,” the goods of this world, which are fugitive, uncertain, deceitful, and never satisfy the cravings of the human heart, “who will trust you with that which is true?” He refers to the spiritual treasures of grace, which are in reality “true” riches, alone capable of satisfying the heart, alone conducting to the true and permanent end for which we were created. This may be understood of all men, to whom God commits His treasures of grace, to be employed by them for their own sanctification and final salvation. Our Lord here threatens the rich and avaricious, that by the misuse of temporal wealth, they will deserve to be refused spiritual graces, or, to have the graces which they possess, withdrawn from them. In verse 9, He proposes the reward of alms-deeds; in these verses, the punishment of neglecting it.

12. “Another’s,” temporal wealth, which belongs to God—like that which the steward squandered—given as His own to us for administration. We have merely the use of it from Him. Riches were never ours; we brought none of them into this world, norshall we bring any out of it. They are external to us, and by no means belong to us, foreign to the rational and spiritual nature of man. “Your own,” the spiritual treasures of grace, which may be called “our own,” because they remain with us; they adhere to us, and conduct us to our last end, for which we were destined and created, and which we cannot lose. “Who will give?” &c. No one; God will withhold or take away spiritual goods in punishment of our abuse or maladministration of the temporal goods confided to our stewardship (Psalm 48:17, 18; Job 27:19).

13. Our Lord in this verse employs an adage founded on experience, regarding the impossibility of serving two masters of opposite characters, demanding opposite and contrary things, in order to dissuade His followers, and the Pharisees, also, whom He specially censures, from the pursuit of avarice. (See Matthew 6:24, Commentary on.) The adage is suggested by the idea, that those who neglect alms-deeds, show an inordinate attachment to riches, which they serve as an idol. Now, such service is incompatible with the service of God. We can serve only one or the other.

14. “Now the Pharisees, who were covetous”—fond of money—“heard all these things.” The Greek has, “the Pharisees also,” as well as the disciples, whom He addressed, “heard all these things.”

“And they derided Him.” The Greek word for “derided,” εξεμυκτηριζον, conveys the external expression of their contempt—literally, they turned up their noses at Him—a common metaphor, denoting derision—“naso suspendere adunco” (Horace). They sneered derisively at our Lord—Himself poor and bereft of all earthly riches—for inculcating on the rich the duty of distributing their wealth among the poor. Not considering the selfish accumulation of wealth, opposed to the teaching of Moses, and to the high standard of legal perfection they proposed to follow, they sneered at the doctrine, that they were mere stewards of their earthly wealth; that riches were unjust “mammon;” that the amassing of wealth was incompatible with the service of God, especially as the law of Moses promised temporal blessings to its faithful observers. Hence, these men sneered at our Lord’s teaching, just as, now-a-days, we find the haughty, the libidinous, &c., despise the Evangelical teaching regarding humility, charity, &c., so opposed to their loose, dissolute morals. “The sensual man perceiveth not those things that are of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14).

15. Having observed their sneers, our Lord, in order to cover them with confusion, reproaches them publicly, with vainly affecting to be just, though not so in reality, and forces them to enter into themselves, that they might discover what God sees in their interior, viz., hypocrisy, secret injustice, avarice, and envy. He conveys, that while they affected to be just, they were abominable in the sight of God.

“You are they who justify yourselves before men”—that is, affect legal justice, and wish to be regarded as just before men, putting on the appearance of sanctity and disinterestedness.

“But God knoweth your hearts.” By this, our Lord conveys, that He clearly saw into their interior, and knew the vices with which they were tainted; but, as these vices were too great to be exposed, He insinuates so much by saying that God, “the searcher of hearts,” saw how their hearts were tainted with avarice and other corrupt passions. “For,” is a proof of the assertion tacitly conveyed in the words, “God knoweth your hearts,” viz., that their secret vices, with which they were stained, were well known to God, and their acts prized at their proper value. “What is high to men”—what is held in esteem by men, riches, station, and apparent sanctity, which men can only judge of from what they see—“is an abomination before God,” “abominatio Domini est omnis arrogans,” &c. (Proverbs 16) Sometimes God approves of what men approve; but, oftentimes what men approve of is detested by God, if avarice, pride, hypocrisy, reign in the heart, and sincerity be wanting. The sentence here uttered by our Lord has reference to the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whose external sanctity men prized and valued, but, God hated and detested, as the interior dispositions were wanting. All their external show was the sheerest hypocrisy, which is an abomination before God.

16. Lest they might allege that the law of Moses proposed worldly wealth and prosperity, as the reward of the observance of the law, our Lord says, “the law and the prophets” (see Matthew 11:12–14) “were until,” the time of “John,” the Baptist. Earthly goods were then promised as rewards to men, but only as figures of the heavenly goods in store for them. But since His time, “the kingdom of God is preached,” without shadow or figure, “and every one,” without distinction, the greatest sinners, including the harlots and publicans, who shall go before the Pharisees into the kingdom of God, “useth violence towards it,” by mortifying their passions and renouncing all inordinate attachment to earthly goods. Hence, those held in disrepute, who are an abomination with men, may be very precious with God; as, on the other hand, as above stated, those in repute with men, are often an abomination with God.

17. (See Matthew 5:19.) Lest the Pharisees might imagine this teaching to be contrary to the law, our Lord asserts that the reverse is the case; since the solid and abiding riches of heaven, alone capable of satisfying the human heart, were in reality typified by the goods promised in the law—goods, which were mere figures of ours, held out in the New Law. The evangelical perfection, inculcated in the preaching of the kingdom of God is the very term and end, to which the law conducts us.

18. See Matthew 19:9, &c., where the words of this verse uttered absolutely, and without any exception, in reference to the re-marriage of any whose repudiated wife may still live, are adduced in proof of the Catholic doctrine, which teaches, that such re-marriages are invalid; that the partiesso united are guilty of adultery by cohabitation. The words here recorded by St. Luke would be absolutely false, if adultery or any other cause should dissolve the vinculum of the marriage of Christians once consummated, as long as either party is still alive. Indeed, if it were otherwise, any one reading St. Luke, unless he chanced to fall in with St. Matthew, would be necessarily led into error—an error, too, which would entail an unfair restriction, and a burden too heavy in certain contingencies, if the partner of an adulterous party were free to re-enter the marriage state with another. It is held by some, that the words of our Lord here, were uttered, as St. Luke records them, on an occasion different from that mentioned in St. Matthew, chap. 19.

19. Very likely, this is to be connected with the portion of this chapter (v. 1–13), in which our Lord speaks of the duties of the rich in regard to the distribution of their wealth to relieve the necessities of the poor. Many Commentators hold, that the intermediate portion, from v. 13 to this, was spoken on a different occasion, and inserted here by St. Luke, as it occurred to him in writing his Gospel, without any immediate connexion with the subject of this chapter. In the preceding, our Lord shows the reward attached to the faithful dispensation of the goods of this world (v. 10), the punishment of privation of grace and glory attached to their abuse; and here, in order to strike terror into the Pharisees, who sneered at Him (v. 14), and all others whom it might concern, He shows, by a frightful example, in which, He vividly depicts the tortures of the damned, the dreadful punishment of neglecting to employ the goods of this world in relieving the known necessities of the poor.

“A certain rich man,” &c. Our Lord, while mentioning the name of the beggar, Lazarus, “honorabile nomen eorum coram illo” (Psalm 71:14), suppresses the name of the rich man condemned to hell, “nec memor ero nominum eorum per labia mea” (Psalm 15:4), out of a feeling of consideration for himself and his five brethren, whom he left after him, and also to convey, that his name was blotted out of the book of the living. Moreover, He conveys by this, how different God’s judgments are from those of men, who blazon forth the names of the rich and powerful, and regard the names of the poor as undeserving of mention.

“He was clothed in purple,” the dress worn by kings, and by such as kings authorized to wear it (Daniel 5:7, 16, 29; 1 Machabees 10:20; 11:58; 14:43, 44). Hence, some interpreters conjecture, that reference is made to Herod, or some prince of the time. The Roman Senate used to bestow it on such as they saluted as kings. In course of time, however, the nobles and the rich used to wear it. Hence, of the valiant woman, it is said, “Purpura, etc.… indumentum ejus.” This rich man, whoever he may have been, lived in royal splendour and magnificence.

“And fine linen.” Linen of the finest texture, worn next his person, thus showing his effeminate luxury. The purple he displayed externally.

“And fared sumptuously.” He enjoyed at table the most delicate food, wine, music, &c., and all the other accompaniments of luxury, and this not merely on festal, but, “every day.” With him it was one continuous round of enjoyment of all the pleasures which this world could afford.

Whether our Lord, to whom, as God, the occurrences in the other world were thoroughly known, records a true historical fact; or a mere parable, a mere imaginary case, typifying realities, is disputed among Commentators. The preponderance of authority favours the former view; and the mention of names, Lazarus, and the five brothers of the rich man, corroborates the latter. Moreover, parables are generally founded on events and objects visible to the senses, employed to illustrate moral truths; but, not on invisible things. It would have more force, if a real occurrence of an awful nature, such as this, were adduced in proof of the sinfulness of abusing or not properly using riches. There are certain things contained in the narrative of our Lord, which would seem parabolical, such as, the conversation of the rich man with Abraham regarding his sending Lazarus to him; the torture of his tongue, &c. Hence, it seems more likely, while it may have been a real event, that certain circumstances are mixed up with it, of a parabolical nature.

20. In the preceding we have a picture of supreme earthly happiness. We now have depicted an instance of excessive human misery, want, and suffering. While the rich man was thus enjoying himself, there lay at his gate a wretched beggar. Our Lord gives the proper name of the beggar—“Lazarus”—while suppressing that of the rich man, for the reasons already assigned. There are, however, interpreters who understand Lazarus to be a common name, denoting, according to Etymology, as the Hebrew word, Laazur, signifies, “unto help,” that is, one exposed as an object to be helped.

“Lay,” prostrate, helpless, devoid of all human aid, exposed to the vicissitudes of the weather.

“At his gate,” outside the vestibule of the rich man, exposed to the vicissitudes of the weather, but so that his condition and appearance were well known to the rich man (v. 23).

“Full of sores,” his body covered all over with ulcers. Some hold, that he was suffering from leprosy. It is not so easy to reconcile this opinion with the Mosaic ordinance prohibiting lepers to reside near human habitations. For, this “rich man” was manifestly a Jew. He calls Abraham, “Father,” and is, in turn, addressed by him, as “Son.”

21. “Desiring to be fed,” he did not exhibit any importunity in asking; however, his wretched condition loudly appealed for help.

“With the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.” He desired to be treated like the whelps that eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.

“And no one did give him.” The servants shared in their master’s inhumanity. These words, though not found in the Greek, are understood in the narrative. The poor beggar had no one to comfort or relieve him. While the rich man fared sumptuously, Lazarus had not a morsel to eat; while the rich man was gorgeously apparelled in purple and fine linen, Lazarus was covered over with ulcers.

“Moreover, the dogs came,” &c. Some understand this to mean, that the dogs showed more humanity than man, by licking away the putrid matter issuing from his sores, thus affording him some relief. Others, that he was so well known there, that the very dogs, that are in the habit of scaring away strangers, recognised him well. Hence, the rich man could not but be aware of his misery. Others, however, looking to the word, “moreover,” which would seem to denote an additional feature of his wretched condition—for, everything mentioned regarding his condition in this life only exhibits his misery—say, the words mean, his condition was so weak, he was so destitute, that he was unable to drive off the dogs—wandering dogs, the pest of Eastern cities—that caused him additional torture by licking his wounds.

22. Death makes a great change, in the condition of both. The wretched beggar, Lazarus, who had no one to give him the very crumbs he craved, by a spirit of holy patience, resignation, and conformity to God’s holy will—mere poverty without practising virtue would not do—merited to be “carried by angels,” the officers of God’s heavenly court, “into Abraham’s bosom,” the Limbo, or place of rest for the just of old, before the death of Christ had thrown open the gates of heaven to the Saints. Our Lord calls this, “Abraham’s bosom,” founded on the ancient custom of reclining at feasts,—because, Abraham having merited, by the heroism of his faith, to be called, the Father of all the faithful, received, as it were, into his arms and paternal embraces and fondly cherished,—as an earthly parent, receives into his bosom the children of his love,—the just who, enjoying his company, were detained with him in the place of rest until the death of Christ. Some hold, that the words, “Abraham’s bosom,” imply, that even in that abode of rest, Lazarus occupied a very high place, next to Abraham himself, reclining, as it were, on his Father’s bosom. From this passage we see that, after death, the souls of the just are carried by angels into a place of rest, in which sense of, carrying, David says, “in manibus portabunt te,” &c. Hence, holy Church prays, “Jubeas eam a sanctis angelis suscipi, et ad patriam Paradisi perduci, signifer, sanctus Michael representet; &c.” This place, designated “Abraham’s bosom,” is generally supposed to be in the bowels of the earth, but in a higher position than hell. (v. 23), “He lifted up his eyes.” In this place, all the just were detained as in a place of rest, and refreshed by Abraham with the hope of heavenly bliss in due time, promised to Abraham and his seed.

“And the rich man also died; and he was buried in hell.” In the Greek, the punctuation and construction are different. It runs thus, “The rich man also died and was buried.” (v. 23.) “And in hell, lifting up his eyes,” &c. According to this construction, the words mean, “he was buried,” with much pomp and external show, in the tomb he may have himself previously prepared. The burial of Lazarus, being private and of no note, is passed over in silence. The construction in our Vulgate better carries out the antithesis between the carrying of Lazarus by angels to Limbo, and the burying of the rich man in the bottom of hell. Moreover, the description of the condition of both on earth having been given in the preceding verses, it seems more natural, as is clearly conveyed in our version, that now we have a description of the changed condition of both in the other world.

The condemnation of the rich man to the torments of hell suggests a most fearful lesson to the rich of this world. Why was this rich man condemned? Was it on account of his riches? Surely, not. Many among the saints possessed in abundance the riches of this earth. Many of them reached the highest honours and dignities with their accompanying wealth, that this world could bestow. Riches, if properly employed, may bring us to salvation, and may contribute to an increase of glory. Out of “the mammon of iniquity,” we may raise up powerful advocates before the throne of grace by hiding our alms in the bosom of the poor, who, after death, may receive us into everlasting tabernacles; and this, in many instances, is the merciful design God has in view in bestowing them.

Was he a heartless oppressor, a wholesale exterminator, who mercilessly ground down the countenances of the poor, against whom the cry of distress, the wail of the widow and the orphan, ascended before the throne of a just God? Was he guilty of the unnatural crime of creating a widespread misery, which he afterwards refused to alleviate—a thing by no means uncommon? Our Redeemer charges him with no such crime. Nor do we find him charged with being a rock of scandal, a stumbling block of offence, by his public immoralities, spreading the odour and infection of spiritual death everywhere around him.

Neither have we any reason for doubting the sincerity of his faith; for, Abraham addresses him as his “son” (v. 25), and the reference which Abraham makes to “Moses and the Prophets” (v. 29), would lead us to suppose, that the unhappy man offered no public resistance to the teaching or the ordinances of the ruling authorities of the Jewish Church, who sat in the chair of Moses. Why then was he “buried in hell?” Our Redeemer, in the foregoing passage, conveys, that it was for a mere sin of omission, for his inhumanity, for his neglect to succour the miseries of the poor.

23. “And lifting up his eyes,” &c. Here our Lord, who commenced this narrative, regarding the condition of Dives and Lazarus, while in this life, composed of soul and body, continues to speak of them in the other world, as if invested with bodies and corporal senses, as He could not otherwise convey to us an idea of spiritual things in the invisible world to come. Thus, God is oftentimes represented as having limbs, though a pure Spirit. The rich man was, by Divine revelation, or some ray of Divine light, made aware of the happy condition of Lazarus, of whose sufferings in this life, and his own criminal neglect to succour him, his present tortures—the punishment of this criminal neglect—reminded him. As the sight of the rich man’s happiness and worldly enjoyment formerly aggravated the sufferings of Lazarus; so, now, the sight of the bliss of Lazarus seems to have aggravated the rich man’s tortures.

24. “And he cried and said.” By this cry is understood his earnest desire for relief, which God made known to Abraham.

“Father Abraham.” This unhappy man must have been a Jew, descended from Abraham, whom all Jews addressed as Father. Abraham, for the same reason, addresses him as “Son” (v. 25). He hopes by addressing him, as Father, to move him to compassion.

“Have mercy on me, and send Lazarus,” &c. He entreats Abraham, whom he supposes to be the chief person vested with authority in that place, to send Lazarus, whom alone he knew among those who were in Limbo, to afford him some relief, and refreshment, by giving him even one drop of water to cool his tongue. He refused Lazarus a crumb of bread; now he, in turn, is a suppliant, and asks in vain for a drop of water “to cool his tongue,” which shall never be given him, “petiit guttam qui negaverat micam,” observes a Holy Father. His tongue, thus tortured, was probably the member that offended most, not only in the sensual enjoyment of good things, but, also in the utterance of obscene words and improper language of all sorts. In what things a man sins, in the same also is he tortured. “Quantum in deliciis fuit, tantum illi date tormentum et luctum” (Apoc. 18:7). The soul of the rich man being in hell, the word “tongue” is therefore used here, metaphorically, and the words convey, that owing to God’s power, he felt the same torture as if his tongue were really burning. Indeed, men oftentimes seem to feel the same sensation of pain, after a limb is amputated, as they would feel if the limb had not been removed.

“For I am tormented in this flame.” The power of God could effect that material fire, as the instrument of Divine justice, would act on a spiritual substance, as it does on the demons—“depart into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). So, in like manner, might it happen in regard to the disembodied souls of men, on whom He might act directly, as He produces sensations through the bodily senses. All this shows the excessive and excruciating tortures this damned man was enduring, not only from fire acting on him by the Divine power; but, from perpetual remerse of conscience, arising from the recollection of his past guilt, from a knowledge of the felicity he forfeited, from the company of hideous devils, from the constant consideration of his doom, unceasingly forced on his intellect, and the horror and maddening resistance to his fate unceasingly forced on his will.

25, 26. “And Abraham said to him.” Instead of an oral conversation between Abraham and the damned man, most likely, the things here uttered were made known on both sides by God. “Son.” Abraham addresses him blandly, and abstains from reproaching him with his crimes. He was his “son,” being a Jew, although he was far from following his father’s example in the exercise of mercy and hospitality; and this appellation of “Son” forcibly reminds this wretched man of that privilege, and, probably, adds to his torments.

“Remember that thou didst receive,” &c. Abraham’s reply conveys—first, that the condition of both was the just retribution due to their deeds in this life; and, secondly, that it was impossible, on the part of Lazarus, to give him any relief. “Good things.” The Greek has, “thy good things,” by which Abraham conveys, that the condemnation of the rich man was owing to the luxurious life he had led, in making his own of the goods of which he was mere steward, and not dispensing them to the poor according to God’s will. “And likewise Lazarus evil things,” in which are implied, patience under suffering, conformity to God’s holy will, and the practice of all other virtues required from him.

“But now he is comforted,” in reward for the virtues he practised, and the holy life he led. “And thou art tormented.” By a just judgment of God, thou art now enduring, and shalt endure for ever—and this you cannot but “remember”—the punishment and torture due to thy wicked life and hardhearted insensibility towards the distressed poor.

26. “Besides all this”—that is, besides the just judgment of God, to which the just must ever bow, in a spirit of conformity to His adorable will—compliance with your request is impossible, owing to the eternal separation, which by a Divine, unchangeable decree exists between the just and the reprobate. “Between us and you there is fixed a great chaos.” The Greek for “chaos” means, a chasm, a gulf, or hiatus. This chasm is “fixed” immoveably for all eternity by the Divine decree; it is utterly impassable, both on account of the eternal separation between just and reprobate, and on account of the distance, which was very great, although both places were under the earth. Hence, there was no passing to and fro, even though they wished it. It is an hypothetical assertion; for, the just, who must ever conform to God’s will, cannot wish any such intercourse, since He has fixed an eternal barrier to any such communication, and the elect have the same feelings and sentiments regarding the reprobate, that God shall ever have.

27, 28. “And he said.” The thoughts on both sides were communicated by God to Abraham and to the unfortunate rich man. It is the common opinion, that there was no actual oral conversation between them.

“Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father’s house.” As if he said; the impassable gulf, firmly established between the just and the condemned reprobate, does not exist between the departed just and those still living on earth. “I have five brethren.” “Five,” may denote any indefinite number. These my brethren now living in my father’s house, are pursuing the same reckless course of luxurious living, strengthened in this by my wicked example, and of utter insensibility to the wants of the famishing poor, that I pursued; and I pray you to send him to them, “that he may testify to them.” “Testify,” means, to admonish, to warn them of their impending doom. Or, it may mean, to give testimony—the literal signification of the word—that, as an eye witness, he may bear testimony regarding the condition of things in the other life, a point on which sensual and luxurious men, blinded by present enjoyment, express doubts, on the ground, that no one ever came back to tell us of it.

“Lest they also,” following the example I gave them, “may come into this place of torments.” He made the request, rather from a feeling of self-love, than from love of his brethren, as he felt, that their damnation, which he, to a great degree, occasioned, would increase his own. St. Gregory (Dialog. Lib. iv. c. 33), observes, that as the happiness of the saints is increased on seeing those whom they loved, sharers in glory, so, also, is the sufferings of the reprobate, on witnessing the tortures of those whom, with a natural and worldly love, they loved on earth. St. Augustine and St. Chrysostom think he was influenced by a feeling of natural affection; not that he could elicit any act of virtue, owing to his hatred of God and of all good, and the dreadful despair he was in; but, the damned may wish for some natural good, such as the happiness of their parents and friends. Since nature is not extinguished in them, they may wish for such, as a natural blessing, just as animals nourish their young.

That the dead, by Divine permission, sometimes appear to men on earth, not only in sleep, but in their waking, is held by St. Augustine (Libro de Cura Mortuorum, c. 15), where he proves this from several examples, some of them known to himself. He says, it would savour of impudence to deny it. But, how this occurs; whether the dead themselves appear in their proper person, or angels assume their appearance, St. Augustine says, exceeds his powers to give any opinion on. He seems, however, more inclined to think it was effected by angels assuming the appearance that dead men had, when on earth. However, not to speak of diseased imaginations, there should be great reserve as to believing in every apparition; for, sometimes the devil might appear in the shape of deceased persons, to lead men into error.

29. Abraham’s stern reply is, “They have Moses and the prophets.” They have the testimony of Sacred Scripture, the inspired and infallible Word of God, bearing witness on this subject. “They have” them, explained in their synagogues. They can expect no higher authority than God’s own Word, contained in the Books of “Moses and the prophets,” every week explained to them. “Let them hear them.” What further testimony do they want? Our Lord divides the Old Testament into the Books of “Moses and the prophets,” including, also, the Hagiographa. It is evident, from this passage, that the Old Testament teaches what is necessary, regarding the rewards and punishments of a future life, and the means for attaining eternal life, and escaping everlasting torments, by observing God’s precepts, as laid down in the Books of “Moses and the prophets.” No doubt, this is more fully and more explicitly developed in the New Testament. The Evangelists refer to the testimony of the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12; 11:13; Luke 16:16–29; John 1:45). As the Gospel is testified to by the law and the prophets, if the Jews believed them, they would believe in the Gospel, which is a fuller and more perfect development of the law and the prophets (John 5:46.)

30. “No, Father, Abraham” “No;” it is not sufficient for them to have “Moses and the prophets;” or, “no,” they won’t believe “Moses or the prophets,” but if Lazarus returned, they would do penance. This was the common error which worldlings affected to labour under. They rejected the teaching of SS. Scripture as unreal. They said, no one ever came back to teach us concerning the rewards or punishment of the other life; and our Redeemer, in order to silence the cavils of the avaricious Jews, on the subject of the future life, and the punishment entailed by a neglect to dispense their wealth among the needy poor, introduces Abraham, their father, whom they all revered, as teaching them, and removing their erroneous notions on this subject.

31. “If they hear not Moses,” &c. This is founded on reason and experience. On reason; for, surely, the authority of God is greater than that of any individual witness returning from the grave; since they might at once say, it was a mere phantom and delusive apparition; on experience; for, they did not believe Lazarus, after he was resuscitated. They rather sought to put him to death (John 12:10). Nay, when our Lord raised Himself, by His omnipotent power, from the grave, after having repeatedly predicted it—thus clearly proving His Divinity—they altogether rejected His testimony, and did not believe Him after it, any more than before it. And, if they did not believe Him, whose resurrection was foretold by the law and the prophets, much less would they believe any one else, who would return from the grave to bear testimony.

The latter portion of this sad history of the reprobate rich man consigned to hell, is calculated to fill the hardhearted rich with feelings of terror and alarm; “if they hear not Moses and the prophets,” &c. It shows them, that, in many instances, the passion, or rather demon of insatiable cupidity, blinds the eyes, and steels the hearts of such men against the threats and promises of Heaven; so that, if a witness were to come back from the grave, and in solemn tones of warning, borrowed from the tomb, to depict the awful doom in store for them, they would pay no heed to him. They would risk all, sooner than part with the idol on which their hearts are unchangeably centered. Oh, if the veil were withdrawn, and an Angel of the Lord were to disclose to our view the gloomy mansions of the damned, how many a wretched father or mother, or near relative, might we find presenting themselves to their surviving heirs, now enjoying their possessions, having been consigned, in punishment of their hardhearted insensibility to the poor, to those devouring flames, which burn without consuming, where “their fall is without honour, and they are an eternal reproach among the dead,” crying out for mercy; and, because they themselves never showed mercy, now, no mercy is shown them in turn. How many may not there be at this moment in hell, who, like the rich man referred to, may be calling on the angels of heaven, to warn their unreflecting heirs, now pursuing the same course of hardhearted insensibility towards the poor, of the awful doom in store for them. But, what could an angel from heaven, what could the solemn accents of a man returning from the grave, reveal to them, that they have not already, on still higher authority—an authority greater than Moses and the prophets—the direct authority of an infinitely veracious God? For, heretofore, “God, who, at sundry times, and in divers manners, spoke in times past, to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom, also, He made the world” (Heb. 1:1, 2). We should, then, “See not to refuse Him that speaketh. For, if they escaped not who refuse Him that spoke upon earth, much more shall not we that turn away from Him that speaketh to us from heaven” (Heb. 12:25.)








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