In the world of Scripture Study, Abraham, Moses and the Prophets all point to Christ, and Christ points us to the Father. The Old Testament chosen ones all look to Bethlehem where the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. They rejoiced from afar in the netherworld when the first Christmas Day arrived 2000 years ago. Why would I say they rejoiced in the netherworld – some eternal holding existence- rather than rejoicing in heaven? Because no human being who lived before Jesus could enter through the gates of heaven until Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. That was the necessary opening for souls to come to what we call the Beatific Vision, beholding the glory of God, which we pray some of our relatives now do.
But this line and connection from Abraham, Moses and the Prophets to Jesus is an unbreakable bond in Scripture and in the reality of our salvation. The movers and shakers in the Old Testament point directly to Jesus Christ, the coming of the Messiah. Which is why Jesus could say about himself in this Gospel that if the five brothers of the rich man will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead. And he was right; many were not persuaded when it did happen.
A very fair, modern day comparison to this unbreakable bond between Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus is the present heresy that the Church, the Bride of Christ, is not necessary for salvation. Or it’s not necessary to live out a fertile and rich faith in Jesus Christ. When the truth is that such an approach mirrors the life of Lazarus in this Gospel; poor; wanting in many respects; it’s soiled and disheveled.
But one could say, “If it looks like Lazarus, then it can’t be that bad to separate faith from the Church because Lazarus, by all appearances, ends up in heaven, becoming best friends with Abraham, the first mover and shaker in the Old Testament after Adam and Eve ruined it for all of us.” But I would respond that there’s a world of difference between a poor person and a poor faith. A poor person can have a rich faith, dismissing nothing of what God has given to us, especially his Church. While a poor faith, on the other hand, is just that, at times disguised as a good, active faith.
I say this not necessarily for ourselves here, but because we all know someone or some others who walk by the door of their faith, pretending as if Lazarus, the Church, isn’t sitting there. And yes, Lazarus is also a symbol of the Church. How many times has Pope Francis said he wants a poor Church and a Church for the poor? There’s Lazarus.
For those who walk by the door of faith, they have Peter, Paul and the other Apostles to listen to in the Scriptures. And if they refuse to listen to all that the pillars have to say, whether it’s on the necessity of Church, marriage, on the sanctity of human life, on works of mercy and loving God and neighbor, then the chances of the eternal separation between Abraham and the other place down there greatly increases.
Jesus tells a parable to the Pharisees that has to do with now and eternity. It’s a parable that creates an unbreakable bond between our present faith in action, and the ultimate reward of faith in action. Or, lack of reward. No one likes to be told “do this or else.” We have a little too much pride today to be “commanded what to do.” We’re alive in a time of live and let live. Let someone be who they are. There is great beauty in that, for God created us to be unique. But there is also great danger alongside of “Let someone be who they are,” because God created us to follow him.
The rich man was who he was. He had no heart for the poor; he was blind to compassion; he was full of himself; he wasn’t humbled until he realized his eternal destiny; he paid no attention to Moses and the Prophets who taught that at the heart of being Israel there must be a will to care for one another. When he failed to do this, he rejected Moses and the Prophets, was too busy living for this world, and set up his own eternal ugliness. Very simply, he chose hell. He made it easy for the Eternal Judge, but not the good sort of easy.
This parable sets up another unbreakable bond for us; that works of mercy are necessary in this life in order to arrive one day soon to the promise of the resurrection. What we do now matters for the future.
This is where Pope Francis is trying awfully hard to take us, if we’re not there yet. To not only have knowledge of our Catholic faith. The rich man was rich most likely because he was intelligent. A good business man who had a way of speaking with others in a way that increased his bank account at the Jewish National Bank. He had plenty of knowledge of the business world, which is all good. But he rejected the call of his faith in God because he didn’t do his Hebrew faith in God, and what it demanded from him. Pope Francis demands that we do our faith.
It’s one of many reasons why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so essential. The Sacrament clears the air and opens the door for us to do our faith with works of mercy. And those who choose to break the bond between faith and Church have no capacity to know that their sins are forgiven. It turns into a guessing game as to whether their soul is soiled or clean. We can walk around thinking our soul is clean because we had our personal moment of repentance with God one on one. The Church was not needed for forgiveness. But when we leave the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we know without a doubt that God has forgiven us through the priest.
We have the Apostles to listen to. Those chosen personally by Christ. May we continue to accept all that they teach, beginning with a heart for the poor, and remaining close to the Bride of Christ, his Church. It will lead to the upper side of the chasm in the life to come.