“And Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) When the Lord made the promise to him, Abram did not stumble in unbelief. He knew that God was not only powerful enough to carry through – even though Abram had not the first clue HOW He would do it – but that God was gracious, merciful to carry through and bring forth this Seed who would bring blessing to all nations. Such faith alone saves. But such faith is never alone.
John wrote: “This commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:21) Let no one comfort himself that he shares the faith of Abraham if he is without love toward the brother. Faith alone justifies; but the faith that justifies is never alone, it is always accompanied by the fruits of the faith, the works of love.
Did the Rich Man in the Gospel reading have faith? He surely thought of himself as having faith. Even in the torments of Hades he lays claim to being a child of Abraham, and Abraham owns him as his own, calls him, “Child.” But that his faith was a sham is revealed by this: that he could walk right by the poor beggar Lazarus, thrown at his gate like a piece of garbage and left there to rot, pitied only by the neighborhood dogs who sought to alleviate his suffering by licking his sores. What sort of faith is this – that a man has less pity than a dog? But he not only walked by – he feasted in Lazarus’ sight and poor Lazarus would gladly have joined the dogs to lick up the crumbs from under the table, but no one gave him a thing. And this rich man had faith?
It is entirely probable that the rich man rarely missed the opportunity to attend the Synagogue. He might even have had a special seat of honor – the rich and famous often did. But when it came time to read the words of Moses and the prophets aloud in the Synagogue, he listened but did not take them to heart. He did not let the words sink into him and reduce him to fear. He did not realize that God meant exactly what he said: “Cursed is he who does not continue in all that is written in the book of the law to do it.” To him it was either a form of entertainment, a nice break during the week, or maybe it was just a boring social obligation he had to fulfill. Whatever. He came and listened, without heeding. And so he was a man without the faith of Abraham, the faith which alone is reckoned for righteousness, the faith which is never alone, but always breaks forth into deeds of love for the neighbor.
How do I arrive at that? From this. That when the rich man in torment in Hades asks Abraham to send Lazarus back as a warning to his five living brothers, Abraham responds that they have Moses and the prophets and they need to hear them. The rich man dismisses such a thought. “No, father Abraham,” he pleads, “but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Even in hell, the unbelievers despise the Word, think little of it, and don’t accord it the power that it truly has.
Abraham, though, is no unbeliever. He knows the power of the promises of God, the might of God’s Word. That Word called him from unbelief to faith. That Word brought him from death to life. That Word gave him a child and through that child the promise of the One who would bring blessing to all. That Word sustained him all the days of his pilgrimage. That Word kept him humble before God and so he never trusted in his own deeds, but that Word made him fruitful in good works. As St. Peter Chrysologus put it: "And since he stayed under a tent, he did not allow any stranger to stay without a roof over his head, and as a guest himself he always received every guest. Exiled from his homeland and homeless himself, he was both a home and a homeland for all." This fruit of love the Word worked in him. And it was the same Word that brought him at last to a place of bliss and joy. It was not a Word to be despised. So he says: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Here we sit. Richer in the Word than they were. For God has given us the witness of Apostles and Evangelists to add to Moses and the Prophets. We have not merely the foretelling of the One who would bring blessing to all. We know His story! We know how He came to us who could not get to Him. We know how He shouldered the burden of our sin and carried it to death on the tree. We know how the Father raised Him from the dead and glorified His body with a life that never ends. We know that that sharing that life is what the Word of God is spoken to us for. We know He has a bath that robes us in glory. We know that He spreads a table where we may eat a food that yields eternal life. The riches are laid out every week.
But are there any here who are like the Rich Man? Any who merely hear and do not truly receive the Word that is spoken? Any who imagine they have faith when their hearts remain cold as stone to the needs of their neighbors? Know for certain that such faith is just fake faith. Not real. Useless on the day of judgment. Historical knowledge of Bible facts is not what God reckons to anyone as righteousness. Why, as James points out, even the devils believe like that!
What should a person do wonders if he is like the rich man and his brothers? Abraham points the way. He doesn’t tell you to get busy showing love in your life as though deeds of love are what brings faith alive. No. He tells you to listen to what the Word of God says. To take it to heart. For, says the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My Word.” (Is 66:2) Let the Word do its work. The Spirit is eager to give faith to all who will only listen. And such faith cannot help but break forth into deeds of love – for faith lays hold to in the Word and in the Word is God Himself, who is Love.
Let him move in and watch out! Love will just burst out! And so we pray, having received Him who is love in the Holy Eucharist, that this salutary gift of Christ’s own body and blood would strengthen us in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. In such faith we can indeed be confident of dying a blessed death and being welcomed to the Feast that never ends with Lazarus, Abraham, and all the saints in the Kingdom of the Father to whom with the Son and the Holy Spirit be all glory and honor unto the ages of ages.