St. Cyril of Alexandria
Lazarus and the Rich Man
Homily 111 of St. Cyril’s Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke
19“Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothing himself in purple and fine linen, making merry in splendor every day. 20“And there was a certain beggar, by name Lazarus, who was full of sores and was cast toward his gateway, 21“and was desiring to be fed from the crumbs that were falling from the table of the rich man; yea, even the dogs, which came were licking his sores. 22“And it fell due for the beggar to die and for him to be carried away by the angels into the bosom of Abraham; and the rich man also died, and was buried. 23“And in Hades, being in torments, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham from afar, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24“And he cried aloud and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am suffering pain in this flame.’ 25“But Abraham said, ‘Child, be mindful that thou didst have rendered to thee thy good things in thy life, and Lazarus likewise the bad things; but now, here, he is being comforted and thou art suffering pain; 26“'and besides all these things, between us and you a great chasm hath been firmly fixed, so that those wishing to pass through from this place to you are not able, nor may they pass through from that place to us.’ 27“And he said, ‘I beg thee then, father, that thou wouldest send him to the house of my father, 28“'for I have five brothers, in order that he may bear witness to them, lest they also should come to this place of torment.’ 29“Abraham saith to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30“But he said, ‘By no means, father Abraham; but if one from the dead should go to them, they will repent.’ 31“And he said to him, ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if one should rise from the dead.’” [Lk. 16:19-31]
When Solomon was offering up prayers in behalf of his kingdom, he somewhere said unto God, “Give me wisdom, even that which abideth by Thy throne” [Wisdom of Solomon 10:4]. And God praised him for earnestly desiring such blessings as these; for there is nothing better for men than sacred gifts; of which one worthy of our acceptance, and that perfects in blessedness those who have been counted worthy of it, is the wisdom which God bestows. For it is the sight of the mind and heart, and the knowledge of every good and profitable thing.
And it is our duty also to be enamored of such gifts as these, that being counted worthy thereof we may rightly and without error approach the Savior’s words. For this is useful for us unto spiritual improvement, and leads unto a praiseworthy and blameless life. Come, therefore, that being made partakers of the wisdom which is from above, we may examine the meaning of the parable now set before us.
However, it is necessary, I think, in the first place to mention, what was the occasion which led to His speaking of these things; or what Christ intended to illustrate in so excellently sketching and describing the parable set before us. The Savior, therefore, was perfecting us in the art of well-doing, and commanding us to walk uprightly in every good work, and to be in earnest in adorning ourselves with the glories which arise from virtuous conduct. For He would have us to be lovers one of another, and ready to communicate; prompt to give, and merciful, and careful of showing love to the poor, and manfully persisting in the diligent discharge of this duty. And He especially admonished the rich in this world to be careful in so doing, and to guide them into the way which altogether becometh the saints, He said, “Sell your possessions, and give alms: make you purses that grow not old; a treasure that faileth not for ever in heaven” [Luke 12:33]. Now the commandment indeed is beautiful, good, and salutary; but it did not escape His knowledge, that it is nearly impossible for the majority to practice it. For the mind of man has ever been, so to speak, infirm in the discharge of those duties which are arduous and difficult; and to abandon wealth and possessions and the enjoyment while they give, is not a thing very acceptable to any, inasmuch as the mind the early clothed and entangled, as it were, in indissoluble cords, which bind it to the desire of pleasure.
Being good and loving unto men, therefore, He has provided for them a special kind of help, lest eternal and never ending poverty should follow upon wealth here, and everlasting torment succeed to the pleasure of the present time. “For make for yourselves friends”, He says, “of the unrighteous mammon: that when it has failed, they may receive you into eternal tabernacles” [Luke 16:9]. This then is the advice of One providing them with something which they can do. For if, He says, ye cannot be persuaded to give up this pleasure-loving wealth, and to sell your possessions, and make distribution to those who are in need, at least be diligent in the practice of inferior virtues. “Make for yourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon”; that is, do not consider your riches as belonging to yourselves alone; open wide your hand to those who are in need; assist those in poverty and pain; comfort those who have fallen into extreme distress; console with those who are in sorrow, or oppressed with bodily maladies, and the want of necessaries; and comfort also the saints who embrace a voluntary poverty that they may serve God without distraction. Nor shall your so doing be unrewarded. For when your earthly wealth abandons you, as ye reach the end of your life, then shall they make you partakers of their hope, and of the consolation given them by God. For being good and kind to man, He will lovingly and bountifully refresh those who have labored in this world; and more especially such as have wisely and humbly and soberly borne the heavy burden of poverty. Similar advice the wise Paul also gives to those who live in wealth and abundance respecting those in misery: “Your abundance shall be to supply their falling short: in order that also their abundance may supply your falling short” [II Cor. 8:14]. But this is the advice of one who enjoins that simply which Christ spake, “Make to yourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon”; so that the commandment is well worthy of our admiration.
And that our refusal so to act will cause our ruin, and bring us down to the inextinguishable flame, and to an unavailing remorse, He plainly shows by weaving for us the present parable. “For there was a certain rich man”, He says, “and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, feasting sumptuously every day. And a certain poor man whose name was Lazarus had been cast down at his gate, full of sores” [Luke 16:19-20].
Here observe, I pray, and mark accurately the Savior’s words. For while it was easy to have said, “That there was such and such a rich man whoever it might be,” He does not say so, but simply calls him a rich man; while He mentions the poor man by name. What conclusion, therefore, must we draw? That the rich man as being uncompassionate was nameless in God’s presence; for He has somewhere said by the voice of the Psalmist, concerning those who do not fear Him, “I will not make mention of their names with My lips” [Ps. 15:4]; while, as I said, the poor man is mentioned by name by the tongue of God.
But let us look at the pride of the rich man puffed up for things of no real importance; he was clothed, it says, in purple and fine linen, that is, his study was to deck himself in beautiful attire, so that his raiment was of great price, and he lived in never-ceasing banquetings; for such is the meaning of his feasting every day; besides which it adds that he feasted sumptuously, that is, prodigally. All the luxury, therefore, of that rich man consisted in things of this sort; in clothing clean, delicate, and embroidered with linen, and dyed with purple, so as to gratify the eyes of beholders. And what is the result? Differing but little from the figures in statuary and painting, the rich man is indeed admired by those who are destitute of sense, but his heart is full of pride and haughtiness; he has high thoughts of himself and is boastful, and while there is nothing of excellence in his mind, he makes variously colored hues a reason for his empty pride. His delight is in expensive banquets; in music and revellings; he has numerous cooks, who labor to provoke gluttony by carefully prepared meats; his cupbearers are beautifully attired; he has singing men and singing women, and the voices of flatterers. Such were the things in which the rich man lived; for the disciple of Christ certifies us, saying, that “all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of the world” [I Jn. 2:16].
Meanwhile Lazarus, bound fast by sickness and poverty, was cast down, He says, at his gate. For the rich man dwelt in lofty halls, and spacious mansions nobly built; whereas the poor man was not so much laid as cast down, thrown there in neglect, and not deemed worthy of any account. Cut off from compassion and care, he would fain have gathered the worthless morsels that fell from the rich man’s table to satisfy his hunger. He was tormented, moreover, by a severe and incurable malady; “Yea, even the dogs”, it says, “licked his sores” [Luke 16:21], and that, as it seems, not to injure him, but rather, so to speak, as sympathizing with him, and attending him; for with their tongues they allay their own sufferings, moving with them that which pains them, and gently soothing the sore. But the rich man was more cruel than the beasts; for he felt neither sympathy for him nor compassion; but was full of all mercilessness. And what the result was, the outline of the parable teaches us in what follows; but it is too long to tell it now. For lest my discourse should pro more than sufficient for my hearers, and a fatigue beyond due measure him who speaks, stopping now from a due regard for the good both myself and you, I will speak to you again upon these things at our next meeting, if Christ our common Savior grant me the ability so to do, Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, unto ages of ages. Amen.
A COMMENTARY UPON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO S. LUKE, BY S. CYRIL, PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA. NOW FIRST TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH FROM AN ANCIENT SYRIAC VERSION BY R. PAYNE SMITH, M. A., SUBLIBRARIAN OF THE BODLEIAN LIBRARY, PART I. OXFORD: AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS. M.DCCC.LIX.
Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke (1859).
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2006. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
Greek text is rendered using unicode.
P.O. Box 3177
Buena Vista, CO 81211-3177
All rights reserved.