TRINITY I – Domine, in tua misericordia
Introit: O Lord, in thy mercy have I trusted, and my heart is joyful in thy salvation: I will sing of the Lord, because he hath dealt so lovingly with me. Ps. (13) How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord, for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? Glory be … O Lord, in thy mercy …
Collect: O God, the strength of all them that put their trust in thee, mercifully accept our prayers: and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy grace; that in keeping thy commandments we may please thee, both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 9.23-24)
Gradual: (Ps. 41) I said, Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee. V. Blessed is he that considereth the poor and needy: the Lord shall deliver him in the time of trouble.
Epistle: Dearly beloved: let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgement: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. (I John 4.7-21)
Alleluia. Ponder my words, O Lord: consider my meditation. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus spake this parable unto the Pharisees: There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (St Luke 16.19-31)
“Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came! that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; that chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed.” (Amos 6.1, 4-7)
Today we enter the second half of the Liturgical Year, that long stretch of Sundays “after Trinity.” The seasonal colour green represents growth and hope, and the theme of Trinity-tide is growth in our Christian faith and our hope of eternal life through faith in Christ. The first half of the Church Year deals with what Christ did – His birth, death, resurrection, and ascension, and His sending of the Holy Spirit. The second half deals with what Christ taught – His sermons, miracles, and parables; thus the lessons become more topical and less narrative, focussing on battling vice and growth in virtue. The pivot point is Trinity Sunday, and our Lessons today pick up on the theme from last week: that God is love. The entirety of the first half of the Year, as well as the thrust of this second half, is encapsulated in today’s Epistle reading.
St John says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” This principle is exemplified in today’s Gospel lesson which recounts one of Our Lord’s most well-known stories, commonly called “Dives (or the Rich Man) and Lazarus.” This is the only parable in which a character is given a proper name, leading some, especially in the Middle Ages, to believe that it is not, in fact, a parable at all, but a true story. “Dives” is not a proper name but simply the Latin word for “rich,” but “Lazarus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Eleazar” (“El” – God, and “ezer” – help: thus, “God’s help” or “God is my helper”). But a parable is really just an object lesson used to illustrate a deeper truth, so whether or not the story itself is based on a real event is not the point. What is important is what it has to teach us.
Now sometimes we use the word “love” rather carelessly—so indiscriminately, in fact, that it means very little at all. For instance, when I say that I love my wife, it means something quite different from saying that I love chocolate cake, or that I love science fiction stories. Indeed, our English word “love” is so broad as to sometimes be confusing. So when our Epistle says “God is love,” is St John speaking of the same thing as the Beatles’ song “All you need is love”?
In the New Testament, there are four Greek words that can be translated as “love” (which, by the way, totally demolishes the popular slogan “love is love”—well actually, no, it isn’t!): we have the word ἔρως (eros), which refers to romantic or sexual love; there is the word φιλία (philia), often referred to as “brotherly love,” which is the bond between friends or family; then there is στοργή (storgē), which describes a natural affection, like that felt by parents for their offspring. All of these are an emotional love—essentially a feeling. But finally, there is ἀγάπη (agapē)—preferential love. Agape is love based not on the goodness of the beloved, or upon natural affinity or emotion, but a total commitment, an intentional benevolent love that always seeks the good of the beloved—both friend and enemy. This sort of love is essentially a choice and act of the will, and in the Scriptures is held up as a higher form of love than the others. It is literally super-natural, i.e., above or beyond human nature. Sometimes the Authorized (King James) Version uses the word “charity” (from the Latin “caritas”) to translate agape. Throughout this Epistle, agape-love is what we are talking about. God’s love is not just a feeling or affinity; it is not a romantic love; it is unconditional, self-giving, self-sacrificial, and, as St John tells us, is rooted in God’s own eternal nature. And the fact that love flows from God’s very nature is of utmost importance to our understanding the Christian’s duty to love God and to love our neighbour.
Last week was Trinity Sunday, the day when we intentionally acknowledge that we worship Three Persons who are One God. The most important lesson we learn from Trinity Sunday is that God is essentially relational. God has always loved. The Father has always loved the Son. The Son has always loved the Father. The Spirit has always been that love. This is, in part, what St John means when he says, “God is love.” God did not have to create us in order to have someone to love; He has always loved, and the love He has for us is but the overflow of who He is. This has profound implications for how we treat each other. St John says: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loveth is born of God and knoweth God. Anyone who loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.”In these two verses the word agape or one of its derivatives is used six times. And because we are “beloved,” we are commanded to “love one another.” Only those who are loved can love. Why? Because “love is of God, and whosoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” Without being reborn and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we cannot love with that supernatural agape. But when we are born of God, we will naturally know God and love our brothers, sisters, and neighbours with the same love wherewith God loves us. And if God’s love does not bear fruit in our lives in the form of loving each other, that lack of fruit is proof that we do not know God, regardless of what we profess or protest. “Because God is love.”
St John goes on to show us how we know that God does indeed love us very deeply: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” The ultimate demonstration of God’s love was the Father’s willingness to send the Son, and the Son’s willingness to be sent into the world, all for the purpose of becoming the “propitiation” for our sin. The word “propitiation” (or “appeasement”) connotes sacrifice, expiation, and atonement. In the Old Testament, sacrifices restored the relationship between God and His people, which was continually broken as they strayed from Him through sin. As Hebrews 9 reminds us, “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (9.22) Jesus shed His Blood on the cross, took our sins upon Himself, and died the death we all deserve, forsaken and exiled to the grave, only to rise again victorious over Death, proving that He is greater than the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and able, once and for all, to atone for all our sins. What a tremendous act of love!
St John continues: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” When we are loved by God, that love bears fruit in the form of our love for each other. His love within us allows others to see God working through us. Indeed, our love for each other is evidence that God lives in us and has loved us with His perfect love. Again, the love in this passage is agape, that divine self-sacrificial love that is a choice. We aren’t to love each other because we always feel like it, but because we have been empowered by God’s love to choose to love each other. This is a choice that we exercise daily, secure in His love for us, confident that He both calls us and keeps us in His love. But perhaps the most amazing thing about God’s agape-love is that it tends to sanctify the often mixed-motives of the other three loves. This is the love that can change the world. Indeed, this is the love that has changed the world, bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to all corners of the globe. But it is also the love that is small enough to work miracles in a parish, in a family, in a life. “We love, because he first loved us.”
We see the practical illustration of this principle in Our Lord’s Gospel parable. Luke chapter 16 begins with Our Lord sparring with the Pharisees, who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others,” leading to the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost Son, and finally the Unrighteous Steward. Today’s Gospel picks up from there. Our Lord describes this rich man as dressed in purple and feasting sumptuously every day. That may not sound so bad, but as we shall soon see, it indicates an improper perspective, and a much deeper problem. He wears purple linen clothing (a colour and fabric which in that day reeked of money in the same way a tailored silk Armani suit would today). Even the Greek word for “gate” is not the word one would use for the small gate in your picket fence, but was reserved for soaring portals—the kind of massive wrought-iron gates one might see before European palaces or Beverly Hills mansions. This man is filthy rich, and wallows in the lap of luxury. Yet his use of possessions shows a blatant disregard for the poor beggar right on his doorstep. These two men live in two entirely different worlds with a huge divide between them. But in the afterlife, Abraham informs the rich man that the gulf between him and Lazarus is now fixed forever and cannot be bridged. This serves as a stark reminder that while on earth the gate had been open, as Lazarus awaited some recognition from the rich man. Gates hold a deep spiritual significance in the Bible. Cities and important buildings were surrounded by walls to keep intruders out, but gates are places where those walls are permeable—where entrance is gained or denied, and where judgement was meted out. But gates also represent the availability of God’s mercy, and access to God’s Kingdom.
In this parable, “God’s help” is at the gate, in the form of this poor beggar. In contrast to the rich man’s luxurious lifestyle, his life was pathetic and miserable. In first century Palestine, dogs were not house pets, but unclean animals and wild scavengers. Lazarus was so helpless he couldn’t even keep the dogs away, and so they came to lick his sores—apparently the only ones to pay him any notice at all. He sat at the gate of the rich man’s house hoping that someone might show pity on him, but the rich man completely ignored him. His only help was God (“Eleazar”).
And then both men die. Although the rich man’s funeral was presumably a grand spectacle, Our Lord recounts simply: “The rich man died and was buried.” In contrast to this, Lazarus dies and is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom. He never received even the crumbs from the rich man’s table, but now he feasts forever beside Patriarchs and Prophets. In this instance, the rich do not get richer and the poor do not get poorer. The great reversal, God’s Kingdom, has come. Our Lady’s prophecy is coming to pass: “[The Lord] hath regarded the lowliness of his servant… And his mercy is upon them that fear him from generation to generation… He hath brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and his seed forever.” (Magnificat, Lk 1.48ff)
The scene abruptly shifts from Paradise to Hades or Sheol. Looking up from his torment, the rich man can see Lazarus at Abraham’s side. And the first thing we must notice is that the rich man actually recognizes Lazarus, and even knows his name! He had previously appeared to have been guilty of no more than a sin of omission, a passive failure to address a situation of which he may not even have been aware. But his sin starts to look a whole lot more active once we realize that he was indeed aware of this man, even to the point of knowing his name. Yet even now, the rich man’s cry for mercy is not one of repentance, but for his own relief. He still does not realize the irony—the great reversal, so Abraham helps bring things into focus. “You in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and you are tormented.” Here we hear echoes from Our Lord’s sermon on the plain, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” (Lk 6.21) “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Lk 6.24, 25) We cannot buy, bully, or wheedle our way into heaven. God looks upon the heart. The rich man did not use his wealth responsibly, and so it became a curse to his eternal torment. Like the Pharisees, he claims Abraham as his father, but that warrants him no privilege, either.
Finally, the rich man does think of someone other than himself, and asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers lest they end up where he is. But Abraham says, “They have Moses (i.e., they have God’s Law); they have the prophets (like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Amos and Micah, who constantly castigated the selfish, rich, and self-satisfied of ancient Israel). But if they will not hear the voice of Scripture, neither will they listen to Lazarus risen from the dead.” This last warning is also prophetic, as the priests and Pharisees, to whom this parable was immediately addressed, did not believe even when Our Lord raised another Lazarus from the dead. And, of course, He predicts here also His own resurrection, and their continued unbelief and indifference. In other words, Jesus Himself is the living proof of the testimony of Moses and the prophets.
But while it is too late for the rich man, it is not too late for you and me. This parable is meant to shock us and spur us to action. We must note that the rich man is not portrayed as particularly evil—he probably considered himself a righteous man, popular and prosperous, yet he ends up alone and tormented in the afterlife. So what is the sin for which he is punished? His sin was apathy or indifference. (This too is the intent of the word “hate” in St John’s Epistle—not so much an overt and intentional animosity as a callous disregard, as contrasted with the active, self-giving ἀγάπη-love of God). We might imagine him passing by this poor man, even stepping over him, several times a day, without ever paying him any notice. It is not necessarily that he wished Lazarus harm; he just doesn’t feel anything for him at all. Indifference might seem to be a passive and innocent condition, but this story shows us clearly that indifference is not so benign, but an active and intentional stance which filters out that which is inconvenient or uncomfortable, judging what is or is not worth caring about, and acting accordingly.
There is a strong temptation in the Church to be indifferent. The sin of apathy (acedia or sloth) renders us ineffective as Christians and puts our very souls at risk. But the clear message in today’s readings, the message many do not want to hear, is that, while our love of God must be reflected in our actions, there can be no true love and service of neighbour without our love and service of God, rooted in the liturgy and worship of the Church, in prayer, and in meditation on the Holy Scriptures. What wecannotdois nothing. Apathy has consequences. But Abraham leaves a lingering hope that the rich man’s brothers—and that you and I—will listen, and move towards the gateway of compassion represented by Lazarus.
“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.” That is the ultimate teaching—the crux of this parable. We have not only Moses and the prophets; we have Jesus. We believe in Someone who actually did rise from the dead, and is alive for evermore. And because we are believers, our behaviour must reflect it. We must love the God Whom we do not see. And just as we have been loved by God, we must also love that brother and sister whom we do see.
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord who exercise loving-kindness, judgement, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”
Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee: and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.