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Dedicating ourselves to a voluptuous life of worldly pleasures is the path to hell
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, Second Week of Lent, March 04, 2021
Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm one, Luke 16:19-31

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:19-31).



Many commentators, it seems, are scandalized by this parable, because it seems to them to present God as an overly severe judge for so punishing this rich man simply for eating well and dressing nicely. So, they seem to feel compelled to invent terrible things that this rich man must have done – things that have no basis in the text – in order to justify such a severe judgment of him. So, they say that he must have committed many serious crimes, such as never giving this poor beggar even his table scraps. And they say that he must have gotten his wealth by embezzlement and fraud. But this really distorts the inspired message that this parable was intended to teach us.



If all it teaches us is that a monster of a man who wouldn’t even give his table scraps to this beggar and who became wealthy by all sorts of fraudulent and criminal means went to hell when he died, this is not a very surprising teaching, for the whole Bible tells us that those that commit serious crimes will be punished.



But the real message of this inspired text is a quite startling and fresh one relevant to all of us today. The message is that a man who doesn’t do anything all that seriously wrong except that he lives in high style a life of voluptuous pleasure, banqueting sumptuously every day will go to hell when he dies.



That is a surprising teaching for many people, but it seems to clearly be the intention of the inspired text. Perhaps commentators try to distort this parable, because they themselves eat very high-class food every day and don’t want to be condemned by this parable for their lifestyle. So, they invent things that are not in the text all, namely that this man must be a serious criminal in other ways to be so severely punished. That is, he must have stolen a lot of money from many people to become rich. In this way, they can excuse themselves by saying, “Well, I haven’t stolen anything. So, this parable doesn’t apply to me.



So, we really have to get at what the text actually says, for it has a message that is quite different from that of many commentaries and homilists.



First of all, this poor beggar was brought to this rich man’s gate to be given the scraps from his table, and the impression is that this wasn’t something that he did just one time, but rather that this was his regular habit, namely to have someone put him there every day. Well, it’s hardly believable that he would continue to go back there every day, if he got nothing for his trouble. So common sense tells us that the rich man surely must have given him the leftovers that he wasn’t going to eat himself (Joseph Benson, 1749-1821), since at his next meal he would have a freshly prepared banquet.



Then when the rich man dies and goes to hell and the poor man is carried up into the bosom of Abraham and Abraham explains to the rich man why he’s in hell and why the poor man Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom, you would think that if his real crime was that he didn’t even give the leftovers of his table to this poor beggar who was there every day covered with sores, lying and waiting for something to eat – you would think that Abraham would have mentioned this to him as the reason that he was in hell, instead of only mentioning the relatively lesser fault of having received his good things in his lifetime (Joseph Benson).



So, it seems unlikely that the rich man did not help the beggar, for if he always failed to give him anything, Abraham surely would have mentioned that as his main fault. But here is what Abraham says, “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish” (Luke 16:25).



So, what is the real point that this parable is trying to teach us? It is that a life of self-indulgence in which every meal is a banquet carefully prepared with all sorts of gravy, sauces, seasonings, and spices and the finest wines is not the way we are to live. We are to live for the Lord and the service of our fellow man. This should take up our energy in our life.



God did not create us to live a life of self-indulgence and worldly pleasure, dividing our heart away from a pure love of the Lord by a love of self and a total forgetfulness of the rest of the world, for which we should be of service. This is a message that is surely surprising to many people, but I believe that this is the message that this inspired text intends to give us.



Another point that this parable makes, which is very relevant today is that hell, namely everlasting punishment after death, exists, even though some of our highest Church leaders today don’t want to hear this, and say things like, “There is no such thing as everlasting punishment, for that is not the logic of the gospel.”



“The certainty and endlessness of the future punishment of the wicked are truths which we must hold fast and never let go … Let us not be deceived. There is a Hell for the impenitent – as well as a Heaven for believers” (JC Ryle, 1858).



But the main point of this parable – which many today (including Bible commentators) do not want to hear – is to condemn worldly, voluptuous, self-centered, and self-indulgent living. St. Paul tells us how we are to live, and it is the opposite of what the rich man in this parable does. St. Paul says, “He [Christ] died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). This rich man lived for himself in an exaggerated way, not eating to live, but living to eat, his every meal an elaborate banquet, for he “feasted sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19).



So, the point of this parable is not that the rich man defrauded others to get his riches and refused to even give the crumbs of his table to this poor man, but rather that he lived a life of self-indulgence and exaggerated worldly pleasure, rather than a life in the service of God and other people.



This rich man went to hell, because “in his lifetime he chose and accepted of worldly things, as his good, his happiness, despising heaven, and valuing, and seeking nothing but the riches, pleasures, and honors of earth. And can any be at a loss then to know why he was in torments? This damnable idolatry, had there been nothing else, was enough to sink him to the nethermost hell” (Joseph Benson).



“Our Lord’s principal view in this discourse most evidently was, to warn men of the danger of that worldly-mindedness, neglect of religion, and devotedness to pleasure and profit, which is not so much any one vice, as it is the foundation and source of all vices. It is that which makes men regardless of futurity, and not to have God in all their thoughts. It is that deceitfulness of riches, ambition, and voluptuousness, and the care of things temporal, which stifle all sense of religion, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Joseph Benson).



We could summarize all this in Jesus’ own words, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24). In other words, we are not to live like a rich man, surrounded by exaggerated, unnecessary worldly pleasures in which we constantly indulge ourselves, for they divide our heart away from a pure and undivided love of the Lord, with all the love of our heart.

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