The Rich Man and Lazarus Luke 16:19-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house--for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
****************** We've been talking this month about saying "Yes;" yes to ministry- yes to discipleship- yes to the following the call of Christ. We talked about how we say yes, the things we must leave behind, the things we bring with us in ministry. But I want to talk about one of those things today that we didn't have time to touch on last week- awareness. Awareness not only of the light, or divine presence in us, but in other people, and in all of creation. Again, we are going to read the scripture in context, so a couple things to remember as we do. Luke was writing to a greco Roman or Greek audience. It's thought that Luke was a traveling companion of Paul- who's aim was to bring all of God's children together through Christ. So many of Luke's stories are about reconciliation and acceptance; that the love of God bridges any divide, or what Luke calls chasms, constructs we have put between us on earth, and that God loves all equally- everyone's in- in Pauls words,"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ."
So by the time we get to the beginning of chapter 15, we see Jesus attracting tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling. And Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep, and the woman with the coin, and the prodigal son- and all of these meant to show gods inclusive and searching love- and they are also metaphors for Jews and Gentiles.
Today Luke shows Jesus telling a traditional folk tale of the time, but with a reversal of outcome. A rich man, dressed in purple (that lets us know just how rich he was) has a fine house, surrounded by a gate, where a poor man, Lazarus, covered with sores, lays longing to be satisfied even by the rich man's garbage. If we look at that sentence in Greek, Lazarus didn't just lay at the gate, he was laid there by someone. Whats the difference? Luke is trying to show us that Lazarus was the rich person's responsibility- yet the rich man went in and out of his house each day and never did a thing for him.
This is where we start to dislike the rich man, isn't it? He has within his means the power to change Lazarus's life- if not to heal him physically, to at least ease his suffering. We especially don't like him when he reminds us of ourselves, and how we could be doing more to help the Lazarus's we fail to or pretend not to notice every day. And if you're like me, you can find a hundred ways to justify that behavior, which somehow only makes me feel worse- trying to talk myself into believing I'm not that rich person. (God loves me just the way I am, right?)
It's funny, the rich person doesnt help Lazarus, but the dogs do. There are healing and cleansing properties in a dogs saliva- coming to lick Lazarus's wounds helped perhaps ease his suffering- dogs not just notice Lazarus, they take time to help him... talk about recognizing our connection with all of creation... that's another sermon in itself-
So both men die, Lazarus gets taken up by the angels, and the rich man goes to the ground. From Hades, a place of torment and flames- the rich man sees Lazarus with who he calls "Father Abraham.' what does this mean about the rich man? Yes, he was jewish- an insider. Who does Lazarus represent, do you think? is he jus the poor or the sick? He is all of creation, longing to be satisfied. As Luke's friend, the Apostle Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now"
"Father Abraham" the rich shouts- Tell Lazarus to dip his finger in cool water and drop it on my tongue i am in torment in these flames." Even from Hades, this man acts like creation somehow owes him something- that he can manipulate the earth, and God's people, to satisfy his needs- that Lazarus should do his bidding. And when Abraham refuses, the rich man says- "Then send him to my brothers house to warn them." And Jesus has Abraham respond, "If they wont believe Moses and the prophets, not even someone from the dead will convince them."
At first glance, it seems, the man is getting what he deserved. He was selfish with his money and time in life, so he suffers after death. But that makes me fearful. So here's where we have to look deeper. Hades is actually a Hellenistic idea created around the 3rd Century, or 400 CE. (Obviously this means it was added/edited in later) In the time of Jesus, the Jewish concept of the afterlife didn't formally exist, but there was a tradition that spoke of a place one enters after death where one becomes aware of one's life, and one's shortcomings.
And here is where this story really resonates, because this isn't a parable about getting punished if we don't do the right thing. It's about recognizing the power we have inside of us to ease the suffering of the world. It's about becoming aware of the responsibility that has been placed at our front gate.
And listen, I know us- well, I know me. This is not because we are bad people, despite how we try to demonize the rich man in the story and equate him with ourselves. It comes simply from not being taught to be aware of what lies inside of us; not living out who and what God has designed us to be. Many have been taught that we are somehow broken, that we are sinful, even inherently evil in some cases... how many of you were taught at the church of your childhood that you were born in sin. If that is the message we learned, is it no wonder we keep ourselves distracted, even from our own thoughts. Is it any wonder we don't see what's inside of us as powerful enough to ease someone's suffering or the suffering of creation?
Scripture tells us that when the world was created, God created her good- and when God created humans, God created us very good- in God's image! The rich man in the story is the lie we learned about ourselves. That we have somewhere along the line, lost the divine presence or the image of God in which we were made. This is not who you are my friends, no matter what you've been taught, no matter what you think about yourself. You, my beloved congregation, are the children of light- the children of God!
This parable is about punishment, its about mindfulness- about living in awareness of our divine connection to all things... adopting an awareness that when one of us suffers, all of creation suffers... and you know what? God suffers right along with us. possible to bridge.The good news today is that we don't have to stay in Hades, tormented by the chains and flames of our misconceptions. The great chasm between us an Lazarus- that is of our making- Christ has built a bridge we can walk over any time to begin to heal the world. Paul says, "... the creation (Lazarus) waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God!"