The Rich Man, Lazarus, and Nutrition

Rich Man and Lazarus

St. Luke’s Gospel gives us the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19 – 31).  We learn that the rich man was well dressed and feasted sumptuously every day (Luke 16:  19).  In stark contrast, there was a poor man named Lazarus who lay outside his gate.  He was full of sores which dogs licked.  He desired to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table (Luke 16: 20 -21).  Lazarus was grossly malnourished, and was likely in the end stages of malnutrition.  Death would soon take him.

In this posting I will depart from the typical commentary one would read about the rich man and Lazarus.  Instead, I will focus on food, nutrition, and malnutrition — both physical and spiritual.

Food.  The Scriptures are filled with the topic.  The life of the Church also involves food.  There are feasts, festivals, and also seasons of fasting.  The Church has many blessings for food and drink.  Before each meal there is the blessing (which can be given by a priest or layman):  “Christ our God, bless this food and drink to your servants, for you are holy now and ever and to the ages of ages.  Amen.”  There are blessings for wells, the sowing of seed, herbage, threshing floors and barns, herds and flocks, bees, beehives, and honey.  There are blessings for vineyards and wine, fishnets, meat, eggs, and cheese.  The things of agriculture and the garden, etc., are blessed that our physical lives are nourished and sustained by God’s gifts of food and drink to us.

The food and drink of nature sustains natural life, and only natural life.  A few years ago on a warm summer afternoon I was sitting on my back patio.  I was either reading, or playing a guitar when I noticed a lovely garden spider.  In her web was her catch, her prey, which provided her nourishment that sustained her life.  The capture of the insect led to its death.  Later that year she would die.  No further eating would prolong her short life.  For us, as for the garden spider, our physical food, generally, derives from the death of another physical, mortal creature (even the uprooting of a carrot ends its life).  Death, when consumed, leads to death.

The rich man and his brothers ate the best foods and drank the best wines.  As with a physician’s descriptive progress note, they would be described as “well nourished, well developed males.”  Yet, he and they were spiritually malnourished.  They were spiritually emaciated and were wasting with open sores in their souls.  To nourish his soul, apparently, all he had to do was to cleanse, clothe, and feed Lazarus.  This was not done.  Spiritually speaking, he was a “Dead man walking!”

Let’s turn now to the subject of spiritual food as is found in the fourth chapter of St. John’s Gospel.  In this chapter we read of the account of Jesus’ meeting of the Samaritan woman at the Well of Jacob (John 4: 1 – 42).  We read this from their conversation.  I quote our Lord’s words:

Every one who drinks of this water [the water from the well] will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4: 13 – 14).

Jesus speaks of a supernatural, spiritual water.  He speaks of the water that is the Holy Spirit.  Then, later in the fourth chapter, we have this exchange between Jesus and his disciples:

Meanwhile, the disciples were asking of him:  “Rabbi, eat.”  But he said to hem, “I have food (brosis) to eat of which you do not know.  So the disciples were saying to one another, “did someone bring him something to eat?”  Jesus says to them, “My food (broma) is that I might do the will of the One who sent me and to complete His work” (John 4: 31 – 34).

The Greek word brosis / broma refers to a food of substance such as a meat.  Such a food requirers chewing (trogo, trogon) to break down the food for proper digestion.  From this we learn that the holy works of the Father are a source of spiritual nourishment.  It was true for Christ; it is true for us (see Phillipians 2: 12 – 13 and Ephesians 2: 10).  Spiritual nourishment forms our souls.  Throughout the centuries, the Church Fathers teach that the human soul has both a type of substance and form.  The human soul is not an amorphous blob of energy.  Further, they state that a human soul is recognizable and follows our present physical form.  All the more reason to be feasting in a spiritual manner.

The holy works of faith both nourish and form our souls.  But what is the greatest spiritual food?  It is the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I now quote extensively from the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel which contains the Bread of Life Discourse given by Christ in the synagogue of Capernaum (John 6: 22 – 59).  I focus on verses 4: 48 – 56:

I am the Living Bread.  Your fathers ate the Manna in the wilderness and died.  This is the Bread which is descending from heaven, that if someone might eat of it he shall not die.  I am the Living Bread which descended from heaven.  If ever someone might eat of this bread he will live for ever, and the Bread which I will give is my flesh [given] for the life of the world.

But the Jews were grumbling with one another saying, “How is he able to give us his flesh to eat?”  Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in yourselves.  The one who is eating (trogon) my Flesh and drinking my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him in the last day.  For my Flesh is true food (brosis), and my Blood is true drink.  The one who is eating (trogon) my Flesh and is drinking my Blood abides in me and I in him (John 6: 48 – 56).

We are nourished by eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  By this spiritual food Christ is taken into us — into every cell of our bodies — and into our souls.  He is formed in us and lives in us as he abides in us by this Sacrament.  By it we have a true, relational union with him which is our salvation.  We do not consume death by this Sacrament as with natural food.  The supernatural food and drink of his Body and Blood give us eternal life because we consume his divine life contained in the Eucharist.

Our souls are also nourished by the Scriptures, faith, the works of faith, prayer, the Divine Liturgy, and all the services of the Church (Matins, Vespers, the Hours, etc.), and other sacraments of the Church.  By these the Triune God is in us and we are in the Triune God.  We have this relational union.  This union is formed, sustained, and strengthened by all these forms of spiritual brosis. 

In conclusion, let’s return to the rich man and Lazarus.  We know from the words of Christ regarding the Last Judgment that we will be judged by our Lord on the basis of how we treated our fellow human beings is this material life we all live (Matthew 25:  31 – 46).  It is clear that the rich man failed this one great test.  He ignored Lazarus in his suffering.  So, we all have to ask ourselves this very serious question:  Who is Lazarus in our lives?  Who do we pass by and ignore?  With the time remaining in our short, mortal lives let us feed, cleanse, and clothe Lazarus that our souls may be nourished and strengthened for the eternal life of the blessed in Christ!

This is a link to the corresponding sermon:

In Christ,

Fr. Irenaeus