Amos 6, 1,4-7 + Psalm 146 + 1 Timothy 6, 11-16 + Luke 16, 19-31
There is only one way for you and me to hear this parable. We are not Abraham. We are not Lazarus or the Rich Man. They are dead. We are not necessarily the Pharisees either. We are this rich man’s brothers, and according to Abraham who speaks with great authority, we have Moses and the Prophets. There will be no other signs and no wonders to teach us, just the Word of God.
This story, unique to Luke’s Gospel is probably not a parable because one of the characters has a name (which never happens in a parable): and what a name it is! “Lazarus” meaning, “God is my helper.” The rich man has no name inviting us into the story, into the character, into his experience. He is really something, and in spite of how his life has ended and where he is, he just doesn’t seem to get it. Look at his behavior and how he talks. He speaks to Abraham as though Abraham is his peer, and in spite of his situation, he thinks Lazarus is his servant. He wants Abraham to send Lazarus first to serve him with a drink of water, and then when Abraham refuses, he comes back again with the preposterous proposal that Lazarus should leave his comfortable place and go to those brothers who still remain behind. This guy just doesn’t get it at all. This story turns on the people who do not get it, and as the Word of God, it speaks to those who have Moses and the Prophets (The Word of God) with the hope that we will get it.
This story invites us to see what wealth looks like and what poverty looks like, and it invites us to look deeper and to look within. The rich man is described by externals, his dress and his food. It’s all shallow. He is only what he looks like and how he dines. There is nothing more to him; no depth, no soul, no compassion, no ability to see beyond the gate of his comfortable house. He cannot see a future and where this will all lead. The great chasm is already there in his blindness. Lazarus on the other hand has something the rich man lacks, an identity, a name that reveals his soul, the depth of his life in his relationship to God. The rich man has no relationships at all outside of his brothers who we can assume have been dining with him walking in and out of that gate oblivious of Lazarus. The rich man is not condemned because he is rich. He ends up in torment because he thought it was all his. Lazarus is not in blessed comfort because he was poor. He is rests in blessed comfort because he never forgot that God was his helper.
Wealth then consists of fine things and plenty to eat, but it does not seem to make one “Blessed” like Lazarus or provide what Lazarus has, “comfort.” In fact, luxury has little to do with long-term happiness, and it is no substitute for blessed comfort.
I find it fascinating that when Abraham talks to the rich man, his address is in the passive voice grammatically, but the rich man doesn’t get that either. “You received…” says Abraham, not you earned or you deserved Abraham simply says, “you received.” I think that one of the things the rich man received was Lazarus, but he didn’t get that either. The rich man’s wants keep him from being attentive to what others need.
I want and I need to hear this story as if I am one of this man’s brothers. There is no other way for it to bring life and hope to this world. I want and need to hear this story now because this nation of which I am a part is eating itself to death and living in luxury with Lazarus at the gate. It makes me think of the people just a little ways away on an island called, Haiti. Is at our door step, brothers and sisters, the poorest nation on the earth. I want to hear this story now so that I never think that I earned anything and always remember that everything I have is a gift that I have received.
I want to remember the ancient wisdom of John Chrysostom who said this in a sermon hundreds of years ago: “Remember this without fail, that not to share our wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life. We do not possess our own wealth, but theirs.” ……..and speaking about us, Abraham said: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”