Lent Week 2: Thursday
In today’s gospel we find the parable of the unnamed rich man and the destitute Lazarus. During their time on earth these two were separated by the rich man’s gates which divided the world of luxury and plenty from the world of poverty, hunger, and humiliation. The rich man chose to cut himself off from his community and from God, and instead devote his attention to ‘fine clothes’ and ‘sumptuous feasting’ (Luke 16:19). It is almost as if this choice of material things over communion, over love, has become fixed in eternity in the form of an ‘unbridgeable chasm’ (Luke 16:26) between the rich man and his neighbour. After his death the rich man is alone, tormented by the flames of his desire, longing for sensual consolation in the form of a drop of water (Luke 16:24). In contrast Lazarus, who suffered so much at the rich man’s gates, is taken to Abraham’s bosom by the angels. He is in communion with God and neighbour; he is at rest.
The gospel concludes with a sting in the tail: the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his wealthy brothers of the doom that awaits them if they do not change their ways (Luke 16:27-28). Abraham answers:
‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’ (Luke 16:31).
St. Luke, of course, when choosing what to include in his gospel, knew that in fact someone had risen from the dead. Christ had died, Christ had risen – yet many still refused to believe. For Luke, then, this rejection of Christ stems from a failure to ‘hear’ Moses. It is a failure to recognize that the Incarnation is a fulfillment of the Old law and that, as Aquinas puts it, what has been made explicit by the revelation of Christ was implicitly held by Moses.
Loosely speaking, then, we can speak of the Old Testament as a kind of Lent, a preparation for God’s great act of salvation. At the heart of this prophetic preparation was the profound insight that we must put no false god before the one true God (Exodus 20:3), and that we must turn away from evil and do good (Psalm 34(33): 14). Like the people of Israel, we too are prepared, by Moses and the prophets, to receive Christ. We too need to put away our idols, our worship of things which are not God, and renew our commitment to virtue.