St. Jerome offers us an interesting definition of the name “Lazarus.” He says it means, “one who has been helped.” The theme of today’s readings is on trusting in God’s providence, strength, and salvation. Clearly the rich man trusted in his own wealth rather than in the help that comes from God. Had he trusted in the help that comes from God, he would have understood that he was in a position, providentially, to help Lazarus. All of the good things that the rich man had were ultimately from God, but he saw them as somehow belonging exclusively to him even when Lazarus was in need. Ironically, perhaps, it is Lazarus who is actually helped whereas the rich man, in all the “blessings” God had bestowed on him is actually hindered from salvation.
When we have any worldly good, we will always be tempted to rely on it rather than on the help that comes from God. That is why there is a beatitude of the poor: they who are deprived or who disown a multitude of unnecessary (and even necessary) goods will be less sorely tempted to rely on them rather than on God. We can also depend upon others rather than on God. We rely on or come to expect expect certain things, attitudes, respect, comfort, or responsibility from them. Other people will always eventually disappoint us if we suppose them, rather than God, to provide the help we need. Lazarus received the help he needed from God, not from the rich man. He got more help from the dogs than he did from the rich man! God’s help does not correspond to our earthly vision of a life well lived however.
Relying on God’s help requires us to accept the kind of poverty he has chosen for us, and that is different for every person. Some people’s poverty is more obvious and material, other’s lies beneath the surface and is more psychological or spiritual. If our poverty is pride or selfishness, we can receive help from God who is merciful, and from others who are needy.
“The Stoics, when questioned about where they place the efficient cause of the happy life that is the thing in people that makes life happy, answer that it is not bodily pleasure but a virtuous mind. What says the apostle? Does he agree? If he agrees, let us agree, too. But he does not agree, because Scripture reproves those who trust in their own virtue. And so the Epicurean who places a person’s supreme good in the body is placing his hopes in himself. But after all, the Stoic who places a person’s supreme good in the mind has indeed placed it in a person’s better part. But even he has placed it in himself. Now the Stoic is a human just as much as the Epicurean. Cursed therefore is everyone who places his hope in humankind. So what now? Here we have three people set before our eyes: an Epicurean, a Stoic, a Christian. Let us question them one by one. “Tell us, Epicurean, what thing makes one blessed?” “Bodily pleasure,” he replies. “Tell us, Stoic.” “A virtuous mind.” “Tell us, Christian.” “The gift of God.””1
“If you put your hopes in another person, that is the wrong kind of humility. But if you put your hopes in yourself, that is dangerous pride. What is the difference, anyway? Each is pernicious, neither is to be chosen. Humble in the wrong way, you cannot lift yourself up; dangerously proud, you are heading for a fall.”2
“Take care not to let trust in your own strength steal on you, for you are human, and “cursed is everyone who puts his hope in humankind.” But put your trust fully and with your whole heart in God, and he will be your strength. Trust him lovingly and gratefully and say to him humbly and faithfully, “Trust in the Lord with your whole heart; he will be your strength.””3
“We have recognized ourselves, seen ourselves and taken a thorough look at ourselves. Let us groan and sigh in ourselves, pour out prayers, that we enter not into temptations. We must not rely on our own powers to overcome all these things. Blessed, after all, is the one whose helper is the God of Jacob, his hope in the Lord his God,26 not in himself, because he is a mere mortal. But cursed is everyone who places his hope in humankind.”4
““They shall not be ashamed in the evil time.”29 In the day of trouble, in the day of distress, they shall not be “ashamed,” as one is ashamed whose hope deceives him. Who is the person who is “ashamed”? The one who says, “I have not found that which I was in hope of.” Nor undeservedly either. You hoped for it from yourself or from a person, your friend. But “cursed is one who puts his trust in humankind.” You are ashamed because your hope has deceived you; your hope that was based on a lie.”5
“The rich man, in purple splendor, is not accused of being greedy or of carrying off the property of another, or of committing adultery, or, in fact, of any wrongdoing. The evil alone of which he is guilty is pride. Most wretched of men, you see a member of your own body lying there outside at your gate, and have you no compassion? If the laws of God mean nothing to you, at least take pity on your own situation and be in fear, for perhaps you might become like him. Give what you waste to your own member. I am not telling you to throw away your wealth. What you throw out, the crumbs from your table, offer as alms.”6
“Cut off from compassion and care, he would have gladly gathered the worthless morsels that fell from the rich man’s table to satisfy his hunger. A severe and incurable disease also tormented him. Yes, it says that even the dogs licked his sores and did not injure him yet sympathized with him and cared for him. Animals relieve their own sufferings with their tongues, as they remove what pains them and gently soothe the sores. The rich man was crueler than the dogs, because he felt no sympathy or compassion for him but was completely unmerciful.”7
““There was a certain poor man, named Lazarus.” The meaning of Lazarus’s name is … one who has been helped. He is not a helper but one who has been helped. He was a poor man, and in his poverty, the Lord came to his assistance.”8
- Augustine, SERMON 150.8. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 130). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Augustine, SERMON 13.2. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 131). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Augustine, LETTER 218. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 131). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Augustine, SERMON 335B.5. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 133). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Augustine, EXPOSITIONS OF THE PSALMS 37.8. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 133). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Jerome, ON LAZARUS AND DIVES. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (pp. 260–261). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Cyril of Alexandria, COMMENTARY ON LUKE 111. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 261). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Jerome, ON LAZARUS AND DIVES. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 261). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.