In the gospel of this 26th Sunday in ordinary times, year C (Luke 16:19-31), we read about the parable of the rich man (Dives) and Lazarus. The parable begins with a gate separating these two, in this life, and ends with a chasm separating them in eternity. On one side of the gate was Lazarus, a symbol of suffering humanity in need of compassion, love, pity, and care. On the other side of the gate was Dives, a rich man who was a symbol of the man-of-the-flesh for whom the purpose of life is the unabashed satisfaction of the human appetite and lacked the attention, compassion, and pity needed to take care of Christ in suffering humanity and thereby failed to store up treasures in heaven by means of human wealth. The story ends with a chasm separating these two in eternity.
What is important for us to note is that the chasm that separated Lazarus from Davis in eternity is simply a manifestation of the gate that separated them in this world. The gate that separates and divides us in this world is not a condition of circumstances—rich and poor, black or white, gay or straight, Christians and Muslims, etc.—but a condition of the heart and while the chasm in this parable, is described in terms of distance between the righteous and the unrighteous, this distance is not just in terms of space between these two states but in the manner of life lived. Aristotle defined 4 kinds of people, from worst to best, and he labeled them (a) the tyrant, (b) the incontinent man, (c) the continent man, and (d) the virtuous man. The tyrant is the man who gives in completely to his human appetite, vice, and passions (believing we are simply human beings having a human experience on earth, no need to worry about the hereafter). The incontinent man is the man who struggles to live with virtue and very often falls into vice (believing we are human beings trying to have a spiritual experience on earth). The continent man has many virtues but falls occasionally into vice due to human weakness (believing we are spiritual beings having a human experience on earth). Then virtuous man has achieved all the virtues and either never falls to vice or very rarely does so (believing that we are spiritual beings having a spiritual experience on earth).
My friends, as you can see that there is a great distance between the tyrant and the virtuous man. No wonder, in the 2nd reading (1 Timothy 6:11-16). St. Paul exhorts Timothy, “But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called”
Let us look deep into our hearts and identify gates that separate us from ourselves, from our neighbors, from our loved ones, and ultimately from our God. It could be fear, greed, pride, loneliness, addiction, indifference, apathy, past hurts, unforgiveness, resentment, envy, cynicism, wrath, you name it. Also, let us evaluate our lifestyles and, speaking truth to our conscience, identify where we fall on the scale between the “tyrant” and the “Virtuous man”. The distance between these two rests on the manner of living. Am I closer to the virtuous man or God forbid, to the tyrant?