Why is Lazarus in heaven and the rich man in hell? Is the afterlife merely a reversal of our fortunes here on earth?
We find an answer in the conversation between Abraham and the tormented rich man who had asked that Lazarus be sent to quench his thirst. Abraham replied, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.”
We can glean three things from this response. Firstly, God knows us very well and all that we are going through in this life at any given moment. He knows perfectly the conditions of both men in this life. He knows our true ability and every detail of our condition at any given moment. Didn’t He assure us that “even every hair on our heads are counted.”(Lk 12:7)
Secondly, God also knows all the good that we can do for Him and for others with His gifts to us. He knows what both men could make of their conditions in life. God knows our potential and the great things that we can achieve for His glory and for the good of others. Lastly, God knows what we can endure in this life by His grace, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tried beyond your strength, but with the trial, He will also provide the way of escape, so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
The rich man ends up in Hades because he did not do all the good that he could do with God’s gifts to him. Despite his abundance of wealth, food, time, and comfort, he did not do any good for Lazarus who was always accessible to him. He was completely indifferent and disconnected from Lazarus’ plight. Lazarus was of no value to him at all. Even the street dogs cared more for Lazarus than he did. Ultimately, he cannot attain eternal life but he is condemned to a life of unquenchable thirst, regret, and tormented conscience.
On his part, Lazarus is in heaven because he endured all the evil that he could not avoid or overcome in this life. He endured poverty, hunger, neglect, and isolation. He did not even seem to complain in life and in death. He is completely at peace in his eternal reward with God.
St. Paul encouraged his protégé, Timothy, in the face of the many false teachers who were obstructing and distorting the truths of the Gospel in the Ephesus community. Timothy was to endure these false teachers and their impure motives even as he labored to do good to others by strengthening them in their spiritual life through his own life and fidelity to his duties, “Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses…Keep the commandments without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To lay hold of eternal life, his faith in eternal life and desire to possess it must be accompanied by a willingness to do good for God and for others while enduring inevitable evils.
For us too to enter eternal life, by the grace of God, we must do all the good that we can do for God and for others and endure all the evil that we cannot avoid. It is not enough to merely do good; we must also endure evils. We just cannot live for our own comfort and pleasure and expect to possess the fullness of life with God in heaven.
True believers who desire this eternal life must always ask themselves these questions: By the grace of God, what is the good that I can do for God and for others today? By the grace of God, what is the evil that I must endure for God today?
Today, we tend to make excuses for not doing good for God and for others. We make excuses for not witnessing and telling people the truth, showing them good examples, praying for them, serving them, alleviating their needs, strengthening them in their own spiritual journey, giving them hope, etc. We may even think that others do not deserve these because of how they have treated us in the past.
We make numerous excuses for not repenting for our sins. We say that this is not a good time or that we are ashamed to confess the same sins over and over. We find it easier to go with the flow rather than stand out because of our fidelity to God and His laws. We can excuse ourselves from the Eucharistic community because of the scandals in the Church.
Because of all these excuses we eventually grow deaf to the will of God and we easily ignore others in their material and spiritual. We easily forget that Jesus does not ask us to do the impossible but to do what we can and leave the rest to Him. He will remember and reward the smallest good that we do for Him and others, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”(Mk 9:41)
We also tend to make excuses for not enduring anything for God. We excuse ourselves from resisting incessant temptations because we feel that we have to indulge in every inclination, no matter how depraved they are. We shy away from enduring malice, insults, false accusations, lies, rejection, and name-calling by others. Let us remember the words of Jesus, “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Mt 10:33).
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, remember that God knows us very well, the great things that we can do for Him and for others, and the evils we can endure with His grace. He knows the great saints that we can be for His glory. We must examine ourselves on all the many excuses we are making for not doing good and enduring evils for him.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man also shows us that our excuses end here on this earth. There will be no excuse when we come before God in the afterlife. Why? Because, as Abraham said, we have the words of God written down by Moses and the prophets, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.”
In addition, our excuses end here because Christ has died and is risen from the dead and many still ignore His words, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
The risen Christ comes to us to speak His words and to impute His grace into our hearts. He inspires and sustains us to endure the evils of this life as we do all the good that we can for Him. No matter what the past has been, by His grace, let us begin again today and never cease doing so till our last breath. This is how we too lay hold of eternal life.
Glory to Jesus! Honor to Mary!