‘’God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise’’ (1Cor 1:27)
Today the whole world is suffering, however only those living in the Orthodox Church are liberated. Those suffering in the Orthodox Church are blessed because there exists the possibility for them to find peace. Those that are thirsty are blessed because they can quench their thirst there.
In this Gospel, ‘’There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table’’ (Lk 16:19-20). When they died, the beggar was carried by the angles to Abraham’s bosom in heaven. This rich man was buried in Hades.
The rich man symbolises those who trusted in their riches. In their life time they only thought of the things of this world and did not remember the Most High God and their neighbor. The rich man’s heart was hardened. His wealth had made him insensitive to the appeals of the Law and Prophets which demand sharing goods with the poor. Jesus said: ‘’you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang the Law and the Prophets’’ (Matt 22:37-40). So we see the fruit of the rich man’s heart when he died, it was tormented.
The beggar Lazarus symbolises those who were poor nobodies in this world but had one power, faith in God. Although they suffered and were humbled, their hearts were sensitive and open to the love of God. The fruit of the beggar’s heart was joy in the Lord, because when he died he was carried by angles.
In Australia and other rich countries the roads are huge; the houses are like portraits with the home, the garage, the trees the cars, all proper and well kept. However if you meet the people from these countries in their environs, you will sense that in their neat and orderly lifestyle where nothing is missing, everything is missing! And all in one moment can become odourless, tasteless and colourless when someone tells you although they have everything, they have no disposition for life and they want to finish it.
So when you hear the logic that the world should increase its standards of living by having one currency like what they are trying to do in Europe with the Euro, so that humankind can be richer, you see that this logic doesn’t go anywhere. The human being is something strange and mysterious which cannot be satisfied only with riches. For example European countries which have some of the highest standards of living such as Sweden, France and Germany, also have the highest suicides. Even Australia and America rate higher than most so called third world African countries. Why, because although they think they have it all, they have nothing.
Humans are strange beings. On the one hand, when someone advances in this – worldly paradise – they feel that they lack nothing. On the other hand, when one has the – fire of God in them – if they sacrifice themselves for their neighbor, and if they have humility, then they live in Paradise. And then neither an attack, nor hell can hurt them. What occurs to those who have the fire of God in them is expressed by St. Isaac the Syrian who said: “when one attains a strong stomach, one can digest any type of food’’. So we see ‘’Lazarus…desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table’’ (Lk 16:21). Therefore every difficulty does them good, even death itself does them good (Lk 16:22).
The human being seeks success, it pursues progress. For example, a child wants to finish primary school, then high school; then it wants to go to university and to move further in its studies. And if by chance it is worthy to win the Nobel Prize, it continues to thirst for progress. As St Symeon the New Theologian said: ‘the same time when I want and crave more, my moans increase’’. So we see that the human being – even if they believe or if they do not believe, this is a different issue – has within them the breath of God. And St Symeon said that ‘’there exists a small joy which outsmarts death’’. So even if we gain everything, but we don’t gain this small joy which can outsmart death, then we are equally unsuccessful, whether we are rich or poor, literate or illiterate (Lk 16:25).
Here in our Orthodox tradition there abides a kind of madness, something childlike – as St Paul said: ’God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise’’ (1Cor 1:27, cf. Matt 18:3). What exists in our tradition is something so poor and non-existent which abolishes everything, but gives meaning and value to the human being.
I remember an older Greek lady from Massalia in Constantinople who worked in a Melbourne restaurant. She grew old got her pension and lived at home. Once she told me, ‘many people feel sorry for me now and say to me: ‘’Mrs Catherine, what are you doing now that you are all by yourself?’’; but I want to tell you, that now that I’m by myself I’m experiencing the best stage in my life, because I always say the Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’, and simultaneously I read the lives of the saints’.
So we see on the one hand, someone who has everything (perfect houses, the latest cars, etc) but they don’t have the desire to live. On the other hand, Mrs Catherine from Constantinople who was forced to retire, her husband had died and she lived on her own in a small room, but she felt that she was living in Paradise. This is what the Orthodox Church offers. One can enjoy in a correct and sensitive way the blessings of life, and it is also possible for one to also have within them the awareness and the joy which outsmarts death and makes the difficulties, old age, and death a big blessing…