This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 22, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.
In the beginning, God created man to work:
“And the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it”. (Genesis 2:15)
Even before sin, even before the curse, even before the fall of man, we were called to joyful labor, to work with our hands, to be fruitful. After man fell into sin, God increased the difficulty of work:
“In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground”. (Genesis 3:19)
Everything God does is for our good, everything God does is for our salvation, including the consequence to which we were subjected as a result of the fall.
When God increased the pain in childbearing — which I believe not only includes the physical suffering that you endure on the day you give birth, but also all the struggles and the toils and the tears of motherhood for the decades afterward — when God increases the pain in childbearing, it is not random. It is not just to slap up on Eve, for eating the apple and for handing it to her husband. But as we read later in Scripture:
“women shall be saved through childbearing”. (1 Timothy 2:15)
And likewise with the man — God is not merely increasing the sweat of our brow, and the pain that comes to our fingers when they run into the thorns in the ground, the tiredness that comes over us from the hard labor, but the labor to which we are subjected is for our salvation.
God said “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground”. You see, bread is for physical life. If you do not eat, you will die. God is saying if you are going to have physical life, you are going to have to work, you’re going to have to toil, you’re going to have to sweat, you’re going to have to labor.
But you see, it’s no mistake that when we take the Eucharist, that it is bread. All the way back to the garden of Eden, God already knew that He was going to send His Son to die for us, to give His Body and His Blood on the Cross, and to give that Flesh for the life of world in the bread of the Eucharist.
And guess what? That same bread that is necessary for physical life — which you must gain by the sweat of your brow — is the same bread that becomes the body of Christ, by which you gain eternal life: that Eucharist which Jesus says, “if you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you”.
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” is to say that by the sweat of your face you shall be healed. You shall be saved. This work is for our healing and salvation. For women, the path to salvation involves childbearing. And for man, the path to salvation involves manual labor. All are called to hard work.
And according to Genesis 3:19, the sweat of your face by which you eat your bread continues until you return to the ground. No such thing as retirement. Never do you reach a point in your life where it’s okay not to work.
I Am My Brother’s Keeper
You go another chapter in Scripture and we meet Cain and Abel. We all know the story. He murders his brother out of envy and he asks this famous question in Genesis 4:9 —
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
You know the correct answer to the question. Yes, you are! You are your brother’s keeper. If I’m my brother’s keeper, that means the sweat of my brow — my labor — is not only needed to feed my own face with bread; it is needed to feed my brother also. My brother has a stomach that gets hungry, and I am my brother’s keeper. Therefore, it is my responsibility to make sure that he has enough bread. And that means that I need to work.
Six Days You Shall Labor
Fast forward to the Ten Commandments, the one place in the entire Bible where God takes His own Finger and writes in stone. We can debate until we are blue in the face over the Sabbath . . . which day of the week it is, what counts as work, what doesn’t, how it still applies to us today. We focus so much on that seventh day, that day of rest, and yet so freely we ignore the other part of that same command. In Exodus 20:9 it says:
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work”
It doesn’t say three days, it doesn’t say five days, it doesn’t say six half-days, it says you work six days. Did you ever realize that’s part of the Ten Commandments? You’re commanded to work for six days a week. The Sabbath command is not just a command to rest for one day; it is a command to work for six. Being able to get by for five days a week, or three days a week, or zero days a week, is no excuse.
The Example of St. Benedict
Many throughout history have followed the rule of Saint Benedict. On average according to the rule, you would be working with your hands — laboring manually — at least 7 hours a day, for six days a week. I think that’s kind of funny that it adds up to close to 40 hours — 42 hours to be exact— plus 2 hours a day reading. That’s not reading dime store novels; that’s twelve hours a week in spiritual reading, diving deep into God and into His Saints. Plus 8 times a day of prayer. To be specific, that’s 7 times a day, and then once about midnight.
Unless you think that this was just a necessary evil, lest you think that this was not something salvific, when Benedict wrote his rule, he was dealing with a culture which disdained almost all manual labor. People had acquired slaves to handle almost everything. It was very common to find people who would do pretty much no work in a week.
He recognized the importance of work. Of labor, of fruitfulness, not so that you might spend the profits on your pleasures and go on fancy vacations, but so that you might spend the profits on loving your brother. He was so intent on it, that Saint Benedict said . . . in regard to resting for a day – he asked everybody that followed his rule to rest on Sunday. That’s the one day of the week when you do not go out and labor for seven hours. Sunday is for worship and for spiritual reading. So instead of going out and working those many hours, you worship, you take the Eucharist, and then for several hours that day you can read about the Saints. You can read Scripture.
But if you can’t handle that much reading, Saint Benedict said that you’re supposed to work on Sunday too. Rest doesn’t mean sitting on your duff and flipping on the TV. Rest doesn’t mean sleeping all day. Rest means that you rest from manual labor so you can pick up additional labor in the Kingdom of God, for the sake of learning more about Him, for the sake of worshiping Him. But if you just can’t bring yourself to read for several hours on Sunday, then Benedict said, “Okay, then that guy gets to work seven days a week.”
Laziness in regard to work is fatal to the Christian walk. According to 1 Timothy 5:8 —
”But if any provide not for his own and especially those of his own house, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter what else you do, hard work is necessary to be a faithful Christian. You can pray seven times a day, memorize the entire Bible, go to church every time the doors are open, and still be worse than an infidel because you did not provide for your family.
Henry Gross is one the best examples I know of godliness in this regard. For decades he has provided bread for his family, working by the sweat of his brow for 50-60 hours per week in a coal mine. The Christian ideal is to lay down your life, to be willing to die for another person, and every time Henry goes to work, he literally gets buried in the ground in order to provide life for his family. He sacrifices everything he would like to do with his day, so that he can spend his entire day sweating underground with hard manual labor, just so his wife and his children and his grandchildren can have bread to eat. That is exactly the sort of thing that a godly man is supposed to do.
Laziness in regard to work is absolutely fatal to the Christian walk.
If you avoid work because you don’t like the type of work that is available to you, that’s pride. If you avoid work because you’re unwilling to be paid $8.25 per hour, that is pride.
If you avoid work because your needs are already met, and you personally don’t need any more, you are failing to be your brother’s keeper. You might not need the surplus, but your brother does. In Isaiah 58:7, what God asks of you is to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house — yes, it actually says “into your house” — and when you see the naked, to cover him.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Now, to today’s Gospel reading. We have the rich man and Lazarus — not the Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead — this is another Lazarus. What we are told about the rich man is that he has nice clothes. He has good food. And apparently, he is single. He only mentions his five brothers; he doesn’t mention a wife or children. The poor man is named Lazarus. The meaning of the name Lazarus is “God helps.” The poor man is laid at the rich man’s gate. Somebody has to lay him there; he didn’t walk. He didn’t drive a buggy over; he is laid at the gate. This guy is helpless. He can’t go out and work at McDonald’s. He is full of sores. This man is sick! This is a guy from the nursing home, before there are nursing homes. This guy is desiring crumbs from the table. He is hungry. And he’s licked by dogs — unclean animals — just as unclean as swine. You don’t touch a pig and then walk into the temple of God. Well, you don’t get licked by dogs and then go walk into the temple of God. So he’s socially unacceptable. He’s unclean. However, God helps. By the mercy of God, dog saliva is a natural antiseptic. So whereas this rich man would provide no mercy, this unclean dog provides mercy from God.
Some people look at this story from Christ and they say, “Man, I wish I was rich. If I was rich like that rich man, I’d help all the Lazarus’ that I could find.”
Be careful what you commit to. Have you checked to see what the Biblical definition of “rich” is? If you turn in your Bibles to Luke 3:11 —
“John answered, anyone that has two shirts should share with the one that has none. And anyone that has food should do the same”
Please raise your hand if you have fewer than two shirts in your closet today. We all have many shirts hanging in our closet. I probably have at least ten or twelve. That means I could give away eleven of them. Now if there is anybody here who has one shirt or no shirt, then you get to be Lazarus. If you have two shirts or more in your possession, or the abilityto purchase two shirts or more, then you are the rich man. Same with food. Is there anybody in the room that has ever tried to lose weight? Be honest. Okay, you’re the rich man. Lazarus was begging for crumbs. He wasn’t trying to lose weight.
I puzzled over this passage, because the rich man is never charged with any specific sin that he committed. We are not told that he lied, cheated, stole, or committed adultery, or had any unjust gain. The one and only sin that is mentioned is a sin of omission. It doesn’t say that he slapped around Lazarus. It doesn’t say that he slept around or had a foul mouth. For all we know, this guy could have been an upstanding member of his local religious community. He might have memorized much Scripture. Whoever he is, he instantly recognizes Abraham. He instantly knows who Abraham is talking about when Abraham mentions Moses and prophets. He knows the faith. He may have acquired all of his money justly. He might have inherited it justly. His only sin — and a sin which is big enough to send him to hell forever — is the fact that he had the ability to help his brother and he failed to do it. And for that one sin, he found himself tormented in hell, begging for mercy from the very one to whom he has shown no mercy
“Therefore, to him who knows to good and does not do it, to him it is sin”. (James 4:17)
The rich man had no excuse. If the rich man was rich because he worked hard, he had the ability to spend less on pleasures so that he could share with Lazarus. If the rich man inherited wealth and did not work hard, he had the ability to spend less on pleasures so that he could share with Lazarus, and he had the ability to work hard so that he would have even more to share with Lazarus and those like him.
For women, God’s prescription is to work hard both in childbearing and in raising those children. Men, God’s prescription to us is to work hard, to live by the sweat of our brow, to support those women and children, as well as anyone else who we have the ability to support. You cannot go to heaven if you do not love your brother. If you are not willing to work hard to be your brother’s keeper, then you do not love your brother. If you already have enough to help your brother and you do not do it, you do not love your brother. If you have the ability to work to get enough to help your brother, and you do not do it, then you do not love your brother.
Laziness — avoiding 40-50 hours a week of hard work — is self indulgence. And self indulgence is enough of a sin to send us to hell.
Looking for Lazarus
We in America have a new problem. We don’t [usually] have orphans and poor homeless, just out running most of our streets, at least not here in Omaha. So a common cop-out is to say, “Well, all this may be true, and I sure would help somebody if they really needed it, but there’s just . . . I don’t know anybody like that. I don’t know any Lazarus’.”
How hard have you looked for him? Have you gone to any nursing homes? Have you gone to any homeless shelters? I could give you an address. Who have you sought out who needs that shirt that you don’t need, that needs that food that you don’t need? Who have you sought out that needs that support? That unwed mother, instead of crucifying her for her fornication, what if you were to thank God that she didn’t have an abortion? And get off your duff and help support her and that child, so that she didn’t have to ship the kid off to day-care while she spends 16 hours a day working to support the baby.
But lets say you look in every nursing home, in every homeless shelter, and you just can’t find a Lazarus. Well, in other areas, are you even doing the minimum? “Tithe” means “ten percent.” Work to pay it!
Now . . . in my years, I have talked to several people that have become very transparent, and they say, “Well, I think I should, and I even want to, but there’s just not enough money left over at the end of the month. Once we’ve paid everything we have to pay, there’s just no money left.”
Well, first . . . It comes off the top, not the bottom. It’s the first thing you pay, not the last.
And second, usually the people that say there’s just no money left at the end of the month, their cable TV bill still gets paid somehow. They still find money for cigarettes. They still find money to go out to eat at restaurants. They don’t just have two shirts in their closets, they have twenty, and they just bought a couple more. And truth be told, there are enough hours that they spend watching TV, reading trashy novels, hanging out on Facebook, gossiping with their guy friends or their girl friends, that they could go get a minimum wage job. And just through that minimum wage job, pay that 10% tithe. You can’t find a Lazarus? If you’re not paying your tithe, work on that.
One other thing about the tithe, it does mean 10%. I once met a guy who, I forget the exact amount, but it was somewhere in the ballpark of about $60,000 a year, and that’s a good round number. That works out to about $5,000 per month income that this guy had. And he threw about $25 into an offering plate and said, “That’s my tithe.” I was gracious and kind and didn’t say anything to the guy. But in my mind, I knew the truth. That’s not a tithe. No, a tithe would be $500 per month. If it’s not 10%, it’s not tithe. Now it’s still a gift. It’s still a good thing. I’m grateful for every child that puts a dime in the offering plate. I’m grateful if a millionaire were to walk in here and put a $5 bill in the offering. I would be thankful to God for it. But I would still know that that’s not a tithe. If it’s not 10%, it’s not a tithe. Call it something else.
Attending to Spiritual Poverty
Now lets say that you search everywhere and you can’t find a Lazarus. Let’s say that you’re already tithing. Not only tithing, but going above and beyond, and giving alms, and giving offerings, and getting as close to 100% as you possibly can. If you live in an area where there is no Lazarus materially, there are still many, many people who are Lazarus spiritually. They have a poverty of knowledge of God. Work to visit them. Witness to them. Purchase evangelistic materials to give to them. Have them over for dinner and witness to them. Make them friends, make them part of your family. And don’t tell me that your house is too dirty to have somebody over. Work to clean it up and then have them over. Show hospitality. We are commanded to show hospitality. It’s by reaching out to people in friendship, inviting them into your home, going to their home, spending your day poured out for somebody other than yourself — that is how we get this church filled. And truth be told, that is how this church is being filled even here in Omaha.
The Rich Man, the Rich Young Ruler, and the Fig Tree
The lesson for us to take from the story of the rich man and Lazarus is that not loving your brother — just a sin of omission — not loving your brother, will send you to eternal torment. The rich man could have gone to worship God daily, he could have prayed seven times a day, he could have memorized Scripture, he could have earned all his money justly, and because he was oblivious to Lazarus’ existence, because he paid no attention to him, because he did not take of what was his own and give it to share with Lazarus, he lifted up his eyes in hell. And in torment, he begged for Lazarus to dip his little finger into some water, and just to cool his parched tongue. And even that mercy was denied to him, just as he in life had denied mercy to Lazarus.
If you are rich, use of your riches to give to Lazarus, to give to the church, to spend time and evangelistic materials to purchase, to help people come into the Kingdom of Heaven. Pour out your life to love your brother in both body and soul. What Jesus said to the rich young ruler, I used to believe was just for the rich young ruler. But now I think, “It really is for us.” Jesus said, “Sell what you have, give to the poor, and come follow me.” And he went away sad, for he had many possessions. He was very clear when he talked to Christ, “I keep the commandments, I go to the synagogue, I’ve followed the commandments of God from my youth up.” He’s a good upstanding, holy, righteous person. But his only lack, according to Christ, was that he loved his riches more than he loved his brother. He would rather have his vacations and his pleasures and his fine dining and fancy clothes, than he would minister mercy to the sick, to the homeless, to the unfortunate, and to the spiritually destitute. And for this one sin, he departs from Christ. For this one sin, the rich man goes to hell.
Remember the fig tree that Jesus curses? The fig tree that had no fruit? He cursed it, and it just dried up from the roots, and it’s dead. The fig tree was not guilty for hurting anybody. The fig tree didn’t have thorns; it didn’t poison anybody. The fig tree had not attacked anybody. The fig tree did not have a branch fall and hurt somebody. The only thing the fig tree did wrong, was that it failed to produce fruit. And for this one sin of omission, Jesus curses the fig tree, and it dries up from the roots, and it was dead. It’s the rich man’s only failing. He may have done all these other things right, but he failed to produce fruit. He failed to use the fruit of his work, the fruit of his labors, to minister mercy and healing to his brothers.
Saint Issac of Syria leaves us with something to consider for the rest of our lives, something to consider every day, something to consider every time we begin to think that we’re too good or that we are too poor to work with our hands to help someone else. Saint Issac says:
“This life has been given to you for repentance.
Do not waste it in vain pursuits”.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, June 22, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.