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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Luke 16:19–31]

JESUS, wishing to show the evil effects of riches, when misused, and the advantage of poverty, when borne with patience, said:

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at the rich man’s gate, full of sores. He desired to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table, but no one did give him. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

“Now it came to pass that the beggar died, and he was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. But the rich man also died, and he was buried in hell. And lifting up his eyes, when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said: ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.’ Abraham said to him: ‘Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is fixed a great chaos, so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot; nor from thence come hither.’

“Thereupon Dives said: ‘Then, father, I beseech thee that thou wouldst send him to my father’s house; for I have five brethren, that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torments.’ But Abraham said to him: ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said: ‘No, father Abraham, but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance!’ Abraham said unto him: ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise from the dead.’ ”

A glimpse of the future state (12th article of the Creed) is vouchsafed to us in this parable, both for our consolation and as a warning. After this life there is, we learn, a future state—a life where everything is quite different from what it is on earth. Lazarus was poor, despised, racked with pain and hunger while he was on earth; but when he died, angels carried his soul to the abode of the just, where he received consolation, and whence, when our Lord ascended into heaven, he would pass to everlasting happiness. On the other hand, the rich man, when on earth, led what was apparently a magnificent life. He was esteemed and honoured, surrounded by flatterers, waited on by a host of servants, clad in costly clothes, and he feasted luxuriously every day. But all this magnificence lasted only a short time. He died and was lost for ever, and has been for centuries suffering unspeakable torments.

Limbo. Lazarus joined in Limbo the just souls departed. In their company he rejoiced in unspeakable consolation, and waited in the sure expectation of eternal happiness in heaven. When our Lord ascended into heaven, He took Lazarus with Him into everlasting glory.

Why Lazarus was eternally rewarded. When he was in this world, he was faithful, pious and resigned. He had for many years lived a life of misery, but he bore all his sufferings, poverty, contempt, and pain with the utmost patience and resignation to God’s will, making use of them to sanctify his soul. He did not murmur nor complain, but hoped in the Redeemer and the everlasting life to come, and united himself closely to God by a holy love.

Hell. The parable gives us a description of hell. It is a place of torment in which the soul is completely buried. The torment is caused by the flames of a supernatural fire, kindled by the anger of God. There is, therefore, no relief, no hope for the lost soul. It is separated from the abode of the just by a great chaos; it can never get to them, but must remain for ever and without hope in the torment of hell. An unbearable thirst was the principal torment of the lost glutton: his throat and tongue were burnt up with it. He thought that one little drop of water, such as could hang from the tip of a man’s finger, would be an alleviation; but he could not get even that. He who had so sinned by gluttony was now consumed by an everlasting thirst. He who had refused to Lazarus even the crumbs which fell from his table, now vainly implored for one little drop of water to cool his burning tongue.

Why Dives was eternally punished. We are not told that he committed any sins which the world would consider to be great ones. On the contrary, he was esteemed as an honourable and generous man. He might quite truly have said to himself: “I have deceived no man, I have never taken any one’s life, nor have I sworn falsely. I am no miser; for I circulate my money freely, enjoy the use of it, and am praised by all my friends for my liberality.” True! and yet he was damned! Why? Because he was a sensual man, an epicurean, and religion was a matter of no consideration with him. His only thought was how to lead a pleasant life, and he neither troubled himself about the future, nor believed in a coming Redeemer. He led a life without prayer, without fear of hell or desire for heaven, a life without grace and without God. Could such a life as this be rewarded by the everlasting Vision of God? No; its obvious and inevitable sequel could only be found in hell, or in eternal separation from God! He lived his life away from God. He sinned, firstly, by unbelief. Neither he nor his brothers believed much, if at all, in the immortality of the soul, or in what God had revealed to man by Moses and the prophets, namely, the necessity of penance and of hope in the promised Redeemer. He sinned, secondly, by immoderate pride. It was not avarice which made him refuse his help to poor Lazarus, whom he passed every day of his life, but pride, which made him despise the poor man and refuse to vouchsafe one glance at him. Pride made him hard-hearted and unloving, and his self-love speedily developed into selfishness. He sinned, thirdly, by intemperance (gluttony) in eating and drinking, giving splendid banquets every day, for which reason he is also known as the rich glutton.

The Justice of God. The everlasting reward of Lazarus and the everlasting punishment of the glutton teach us to know the justice of God. But God’s justice is also shown by His temporal reward of the rich man, while on earth, for what little good he had done. Perhaps, in his earlier days, Dives had sometimes prayed, or had given an offering to the Temple; and because God, in His Omniscience, knew that this man would remain impenitent to the end, and would go to hell, He gave him his reward on earth. On the other hand, Lazarus had probably committed sins in his youth. But he had heartily repented of them, and by his misery on earth made satisfaction for them, and suffered his temporal punishment in that way; so that when he died he was at once received into the abode of the just. Nothing that is good is left unrewarded, and nothing that is sinful is left unpunished. Thus the fate of Dives ought to serve as a grave warning to the rich not to forget God or the care of their souls, and to make a right use of their riches, especially by alms-deeds. And the everlasting reward of Lazarus ought to bring consolation to the poor and suffering and teach them not to murmur or lose courage, but to endure all in patience and resignation, fixing their hope on God and His everlasting riches. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Unbelief. He who will not believe the teachers appointed by God (Moses and the prophets under the Old Law, and the Church under the New Law), would not believe, even if one rose from the dead and came to preach to him. Lazarus was called back from the grave by our Lord, and Christ Himself rose from the dead, and yet the majority of the Jews refused to believe!

APPLICATION. Whom would you wish to be like, Lazarus or the rich glutton? Would you prefer to spend your short time on earth in eating and drinking, and then suffer the everlasting torments of hell? Or would you rather be poor and humble on earth, and suffer patiently whatever God sends you, and then rejoice for ever in heaven? You must choose: it is a case of heaven or hell! Fear the just God and keep His commandments. Say to-day a prayer to the Holy Ghost for the gift of holy fear.

“In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin” (Ecclus. 7:40).








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