Grace to us and peace from Jesus Christ. AMEN.
How would you tell this story to children? [pause] Maybe somebody asked Charles Dickens that question once. Friends, we need to be careful not to explain away this story...not to round out the edges. Let this sting, sisters and brothers in Christ. Let it bite. Say ouch, grimace: Jesus is speaking in no unclear terms, right?
Jesus tells this story after a series of parables, and that’s important to remember here. The lost coins sheep and sons, the dishonest manager, and now this. And remember, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees...who are convinced that they can coast into the bosom of Abraham, with very little humility, with very little mercy, and very little generosity. That’s the capital for Jesus: humility, mercy, generosity. Not money.
So just to drive the point home, he tells them this vivid parable about a rich man and Lazarus. And isn’t Jesus a master of storytelling, setting up these graphic contrasts?
Purple linens could only be afforded by the extremely wealthy. And he feasted sumptuously every day. Again, only a small percentage could eat like that.
And the Pharisees would have been right with him, like, “Good for him. I know that guy. He takes me out to lunch once every week. Good guy.”
By the way, there’s a website called globalrichlist.com, where you can see how rich you are compared to the rest of the world. Did you know that a person who brings home $40,000/year is in the top .57% of the richest people in the world? If you make $40,000/you would be the 33,982,065th richest person on this earth, only about 34 million who are richer than you are! Might seem like a lot until you realize 7.5 billion on the planet. In one hour, you make ~$20, as compared to someone in Ghana who makes $.08 for the same hour of work. Would take 53 years for the average laborer in Indonesia to earn the same amount. Your monthly income could pay the monthly salaries of 179 doctors in Pakistan. (taxes? Zacchaeus coming next week: 25% --> $30G = top 1.23%, globally)
So, Jesus introduces this rich man, feasting sumptuously. Just enjoying life. Living well, making $40,000/year...let’s just say.
And then he contrasts the man clothed in nice stuff with a man clothed in sores. Hungry. At his gate. Day in, day out, more like a fly than a human being. An eyesore for the rich man and all his friends. “Sorry about him,” the rich man might have said when the Pharisee would come over for lunch. “Get outta here you old beggar! Shew, fly!”
Jesus goes on, but before he does, he gives the poor man a name: Lazarus. Scholars note, that in all of Jesus’ stories and parables, he never gives his characters names (fathers, sons, widows, shepherds, managers, servants..). The Jesus names the poor man, Lazarus (which we know from the Greek means “God helps”). Lazarus would have gladly, the text says, eaten the nasty scraps left over (ever take home left overs and look at them the next day…?) But he gets nothing handed to him in his earthly life. Maybe he annoyed the rich man once or twice, at least then he’s getting some attention. For the most part, Lazarus was just invisible.
Know any body like that...Lazarus, I mean? Probably not, because the Lazarus’ of this world are those we don’t even see...those we can’t even call to mind, much less name, when it’s time to pray.
But God knows every name. (try learning a name this week?)
God calls the Lazarus’ of this world by name, and draws them close. They will rest at last in the bosom of Abraham, and woe to ones who do not care for them. These are Jesus‘ words, not mine.
It’s interesting too: It seems to me to be pretty wonderful news that the poor will be drawn in to God’s loving, safe, protective arms at the end of the day. That seems something to celebrate, and just stop there. God names the poor and draws them in to the bosom of Abraham. Thanks be to God. But given those statistics about who’s rich and who’s poor, I don’t know about you, but I find myself hearing this text and still not giving thanks for the salvation of the poor. I hear these statistics and rather than being grateful for their salvation, I’m getting more concerned about what this means for me! What about that poor rich man? What about me? What about all those people I know and love who have lots of money?! Isn’t it interesting that the world’s poor, billions of people literally are going to be gathered into God’s arms, and I still can’t be grateful for God’s glory, love, power and mercy?
This is a tough one today, deep into our Lenten journey. Lazarus is carried up...and the rich man is buried down. And from the flames of Hades, he cries out. By the way, we get a lot (all) of our imagery of hell from a literary masterpiece, Dante’s Inferno (14th c. Florence, Italy). Interesting study: this is not the word “hell”, in today’s text, it’s Hades. Hell is the translated word in the bible for gehenna. That was the heap of trash outside the Jerusalem walls and that was always burning, because it was constantly fueled with trash. But Hades was the third and bottom tier, that the people of Jesus‘ time believed in. There was earth, there was heaven, and there was Hades. Common understanding that came from the Hellenistic influences and ancient Jewish influences…
Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom, and the rich man is being endlessly tormented in Hades.
Where is the hope in this passage, if one has some money?
This is a lesson for the Pharisees, who just weren’t understanding mercy and compassion of God for the last, the least, and the lost, and so Jesus is driving it home.
The hope is that we get to listen in, eavesdrop on Jesus driving home the point, and we get to learn. How is the Holy Spirit working in us as we don’t skip over this story? As we let this story sting us a little (or a lot)...before passing the peace, before putting our pledges, tithes and offerings in the plate, before going home and having a sumptuous lunch.
I’ve said before, beware of the Gospel of Luke, it could change your life. How is God working on us? On you? ...to be the people, the community of faithful followers in this day, in this part of the world? The Spirit is stirring, unsettling, untying our hands, unlocking our treasure chests. Someone has been raised from the dead, and so now everything is different.
We are blessed and we are sent and we can now see those in need at our gates. And it’s not just about tossing a coin now, or even a couple bucks, it’s about our whole attitude towards those who are different. One scholar calls it our “fundamental neighborliness”. She says our “fundamental neighborliness is the barometer of the soul.”
God is with us now -- let me be clear: we have a loving God. There’s more time to grow. God is a loving parent, sitting and watching as we learn a new lesson (I think of parents lovingly observing their children putting a new concept together in their classroom). Holy Spirit is here, moving in this place, reaching into our hearts and our souls and rejuvenating, re-booting our “fundamental neighborliness” for Christian living and speaking to one another, and caring for the least, the lost and the Lazarus.
God’s grace abounds, friends of Jesus, and we are the vessels of that grace and compassion.
Let us give thanks, as we eat the Body and Blood of Christ...as we learn, as we re-envision, as we share the wealth. Let us give thanks, Amen.