Amos 6, 1-7 + Psalm 146 + 1 Timothy 6, 11-16 + Luke 16, 19-31
September 25, 2016 St Peter Church in Naples, FL
Images of hell are found all through the scriptures, and they often have to do with fire and heat. If this is to be taken literally, we’re in trouble here in southwest Florida. It’s been hot the past several weeks! This may not be the “Paradise” that the Chamber of Commerce would like to portray. When Jesus speaks of hell, he often refers to a ravine outside of Jerusalem City that had been used by an earlier religious sect that sacrificed human life. Because of that, the Jewish people would not go near the place, and it became the city dump a wasteland outside of Jerusalem that was a smoldering, stinking place everyone avoided. The physical features are important: it was outside the city, it was always burning, and no one wanted to go there.
With that image in mind there comes this episode of Luke’s Gospel. What emerges with great importance here is this “chasm”, this separation that exists between that rich man and everyone else. It is a chasm that was there before he died. He just didn’t notice it. He did not notice a lot of things before it was too late. That poor man was right there at his front door. There is no way in the world he did not know Lazarus was there. He would have had to step over him or walk around him to go in and go out. But maybe he was so walled up already in his life that he never went out. The fact of the matter is; this rich man had simply learned to look the other way, and with Jesus, that’s a problem. Urban life for all of us these days makes it really easy to do that. It is now very easy with our freeways and turnpikes to speed past neighborhoods where Lazarus still lives and never notice anything we don’t want to see. But those people are still there, and the result is the same.
As it was then and so it is still now, Lazarus and everyone like him remains invisible especially when we look the other way. It fascinates me the way Luke reports the parable. Notice that the rich man still does not see Lazarus. What he really sees is what Lazarus has! The rich man is not connected to what binds us together as human beings. He lives in privilege and power, and he begs Abraham, not Lazarus because he assumes that Abraham is a powerful influential figure like he is. He wants to order Lazarus around like one of his servants, because he thinks he’s still so privileged. All that did is deepen the chasm between himself and others. Then he tries to extend his sense of class and hereditary privilege by pleading for his brothers. This guy is clueless! What he needs is a change of vocabulary that would reveal a change of heart. Instead of saying “me” he needs to say “we”. He needs to demonstrate that he gets exactly what it is that Jesus is about with his ministry among us. Clan, class, and privilege are gone in the Kingdom of God. Among those who are citizens of that Kingdom, there is only a concept of “ours” that includes everyone the Creator refers to as “mine.” God is the only one who can every say, “mine.” When that happens, death will appear as a promise instead of a threat, and we will not be content until that promise comes true in the age Paul writes of in his letter to Timothy.
That rich man like too many still today has locked himself into his own little world. While it might be fine for a little while, it does not take long to realize that there is a chasm that cannot be bridged, and it is very lonely on the other side. We must take careful note that this man is not condemned because of his wealth. It has nothing to do with where he finds himself. He is condemned because he did nothing with his wealth except wall himself up and look the other way. What Jesus condemns is using wealth to separate ourselves from others rather than enrich others. There is a responsibility that comes with wealth. We must put people before possessions and relationships before belongings. The hunger that drives us is not for material things but for a loving, personal relationship with the God who created us, and nothing else will do.