September 29, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL
Amos 6, 1, 4-7 + Psalm 146 + 1 Timothy 6, 11-16 + Luke 16, 19-31
From this Gospel, there is a question Luke wants us to ask, “What it is that kept that man from getting to Abraham?” Now, there is a risk of getting sidetracked in the telling this parable that could distract us from asking that question. It leads to a commonly shared idea that the poor should just tough it out and wait, because things will get better after they’re dead. That kind of thinking is an insult to God’s Justice and Mercy. This parable is not about Justice or Mercy. It is about what might keep us out of heaven.
Usually, it is the poor who are nameless in life, while the rich with all their inconsequential doings are covered by the media for our admiration. There is even a cable TV channel called, “E” that makes sure we know their names. In this Gospel, it’s the other way around the rich man has no name, but everyone knows Lazarus. Luke is proposing that this is the way it will be in the Kingdom of God.
There is nothing in this parable to suggest that this rich man was evil, that his wealth was gained by theft or in any other immoral or unethical way. In fact, there is a hint that he might have actually been a good man concerned at least about his family as he tries to get word to his brothers and save them from his torment. How ironic that this nameless rich man even after death cannot throw off his sense of privilege as he who couldn’t even spare a scrap for Lazarus at his gate now expects Lazarus to be his errand boy, and bring him a cup of water. I guess the problem is that he never thought of Lazarus as though he was a brother. I find it interesting that he knew Lazarus’ name! He knew Lazarus was there. He would have had to walk around him to go in and out. There is something else even worse, and Jesus points to it directly. No one was paying attention to Moses and the prophets. They were deaf to the Word of God. They did not listen. They did not respond to what was spoken to them in the Scriptures. All that mattered was the good life.
This is what kept that man from getting to heaven and finding the welcome and comfort of Abraham’s company. Abraham, you know, was the great figure of hospitality in the Scriptures. If we are comfortable in a world of the “haves” and “have-nots”, God’s Word says that there will be reversal forever in the days to come. Lazarus had sores, and had no home but that doorway. Those who have live in nice homes. Those who have not live in shelters or their cars.. The “haves” buy a healthcare and medicine for their sores. The “have-nots” stay sick and die young. A reversal is coming says the Word of God. To ignore that Word is to get caught in the reversal that will come.
They lived in separate worlds, those two men, but they were only steps apart from each other. The rich man never stepped into the world of that poor man. He didn’t see Lazarus as a human being much less as a brother who shared a common humanity. He was indifferent, and indifference is the worst thing of all. What kept him out of heaven then, is the question raised by this Gospel today. He was without compassion. He lived only in his own little world gradually losing his soul as he gained his wealth. Sin kept him out of heaven, and most of the time sin is not about doing wrong, it is about the failure to do good. To close one’s heart it to begin to die. To open one’s heart is to begin to live.