Kempis here describes the eternal consequences of not having sorrow for sin (1,21). Solitude, frequent examination of conscience, and a firm purpose of amendment are all emphasized as necessary in this life for happiness in the next.
Today’s “parable” (Lk 16:19-31; I’ve heard good arguments against it being a parable, strictly speaking, since it is the only such story that actually gives a proper name to a character [sometimes the wealthy feaster is called Dives, which simply Latin for “rich man,” but his proper name is not in this tale]) is the famous story of the rich man and Lazarus; the person of wealth feasts with no concern for the poor beggar in his midst. Fortunes are reversed in the next world when Lazarus enjoys bliss but the man of worldly means endures torture. The burning man asks for a bit of relief but it cannot be provided. And, while the entire story is directed at the Pharisees, the last line, in response to Dives request to at least warn his brothers, is most poignant for the Lord’s hearers:
If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.
The episode of Lazarus being raised from the dead only appears in John’s Gospel (Jn 11:1-44, but it is worth reading the entire chapter), immediately after which the Sanhedrin meets to put into high gear their plans to have Jesus put to death. We learn there that Jesus escapes to Ephraim for awhile, but the very next verse tells us that “Passover was near” and then three verses later that it was six days away. John is a quite different Gospel than the three synoptics, so chronology is particularly difficult to discern with the Beloved Disciple. Did Jesus relate today’s parable before or after Lazarus actual rising from death? If before, imagine the Pharisees recalling with varied reactions and emotions this pointed tale when watching Jesus’ friend emerge from his tomb. If after, picture the seething indignation they must have felt being called out for their lack of faith even after witnessing the long dead come to life (thus making their immediate turn toward plotting against the upstart Rabbi unsurprising). This is not to mention the infinitely more significant Resurrection that takes place after Jesus is executed and the Pharisees response to that event.
The Pharisees then, and we today, should take heed with utmost seriousness the lesson Jesus attempted to teach them and attempts to teach persons of all times and places: enjoying the creature comforts while neglecting the least of our brothers is a sure path to, at best, a long stay in purgatory (maybe that’s where Dives was? — think about it based on evidence in the story), or, infinitely worse, eternal damnation. As Kempis implores, we “would willingly endure work and pain, and fear no austerity” in this life if we “seriously consider” our fate for eternity.
In hindsight, the rich man would have done anything to avoid his fate. We have no excuse in that we have the advantage of knowing that “someone” who rose from the dead.
So let us listen to the Christ who lives forever and never be so caught up in ourselves that we ignore injustice and the legitimate needs of others. Another reading of the Judgment of the Nations (Mt 25:31-46) is in order, in case any of us does not appreciate the seriousness of this call.
The Rich Man and Lazarus (medieval illumination)