Now that we’re fully convinced of our need for grace and our utter inability to follow Christ without God’s aid, we are given a parable that is not about prayer or the honing of an interior state, but about action, or the lack thereof. Traditionally this is known as the parable of Dives and Lazarus, Dives being the name of the rich man. He isn’t named in the text, but people have given him the name as they’ve read and retold this parable over millennia. Lazarus should be a familiar name to us. In the Gospel of John, he is the friend whom Jesus raises from the dead, the brother of Mary and Martha. He both foreshadows Jesus’ own resurrection, and reassures the flawed and failing disciples that resurrection is possible for them. Perhaps this is a different Lazarus, and it was as common a name as Jennifer in Ancient Palestine. But perhaps it was a name that got mixed in with the oral tradition, and associated with many stories that were all, vaguely, about the same thing. Because in this parable in Luke, Lazarus is resurrected into eternal life, and like all of us who hope for resurrection, his main personality trait is humility.
Encountering this parable, I can’t help see myself in both characters. I want the humility of Lazarus, while also wanting to maintain the wealth and prominence of Dives. And I believe that the purpose of the parable is to incite this confrontation within myself. I, like generations of readers, want to be a better, more generous version of Dives. I don’t want to be Lazarus. I don’t want to be that humble. Or, I want to see Lazarus raised up to a place of comfort and health, while still somehow maintaining his humility. The story makes me want this. It is a crucible where two characters are combined. These two characters are elements of my own soul, and the work of the crucible is to melt them down and make them into something new. The humble person who isn’t in misery. The person, rich with God, who notices suffering and works to alleviate it.
I borrow this language of crucible from Teresa of Avila, who says, in The Interior Castle, that “there is no better crucible for testing the genuine value of prayer than the effects and the actions that follow it.” It is true that we cannot work to receive God’s grace and forgiveness, which is pure gift. But we do work, not because we’re trying to earn salvation, but because we are so delighted by the foretaste of salvation that God has given us that we can’t help expressing our joy through love and charity. Grace is a glimpse through the eyes of God, a moment where we see the world entire, and allow our hearts to be wounded by compassion and healed by joy. Having seen through God’s eyes, disregard of other people becomes impossible. They are as precious and wonderful as we are, and we love them as we are loved. And because we love them, we work for their good, and share our blessing with them.