A Tale of Two Men
Today we heard yet another of Jesus’ parables. (Luke 16:19-31) The title of this parable is The Rich Man and Lazarus. First, we meet the rich man. Here is a guy who dresses in purple, the color or royalty, and fine linen every day. Moreover, that word for linen is actually busos, which was the finest Egyptian underwear one could buy. This guy dressed to the nine’s, he showed the world how successful he was because if you have it why not flaunt it right? In addition, this man had a feast every single day those of you who have planned wedding banquets tell me what that reception would be like every single day.
And then there is Lazarus, lying at the rich man’s gate. Covered with sores, longing to receive just a scrap from the rich man’s table. The dogs licked his sores. Lazarus, the poor man. Poor man, rich man, one down and out, one up and coming.
We’ve met both of these characters, which one would you say on first glance has found favor with God? Which one would you say has been blessed? Jesus piles on the irony in this story, he twists the knife in our hearts a little deeper by giving the poor man a name, the only character in any of Jesus’ parables to have a name, by the way, the name Lazarus that literally means, God Has Helped. Is Jesus laying it on a little thick do you think? God has helped…This guy? No, Jesus, you meant to name the rich man Lazarus, God helps those who help themselves. It is the person on the OTHER side of that gate that has received God’s blessings.
Ahh, but BOTH men die. The rich man is buried, he could afford a funeral, and he got one. I am sure it was grand. The poor man, no funeral, the angel’s come and take him away. God has helped indeed. And surprise surprise, the rich man wakes up in Hades where he was constantly tormented. When he looked up, he saw Abraham with Lazarus by his side far far away. A big flip-flop has occurred; the rich man enjoyed the good things in life but received nothing in the afterlife. Lazarus, on the other hand, got nothing in this life and is received into the bosom of Abraham in the next.
Maybe, maybe the rich man gets it now and will apologize to Lazarus, I mean God will forgive him if he asks for it right? But no, instead of an apology the rich man ignores Lazarus and tries to do a business deal with Abraham. Father, he says, have mercy on me, send Lazarus to dip a finger in water and cool my tongue for these flames are kind of hot.” Not only does he ignore Lazarus in death as he did in life, he also reveals that he did indeed know Lazarus’ name, he knew who he was, he knew that this was the man who was laid outside his gate every day, that this was a man that only the wild dogs comforted. In essence the rich man is saying, “Look, Abraham, this is not the lifestyle to which I am accustomed. Beggars, on the other hand, they deal with this every day and it doesn’t really matter. There are always poor people but when someone like me is hurting shouldn’t you show a little mercy?”
“No, no mercy. The chasm between you and us is fixed; there is no way across it.” The rich man replied, “ Then send him to my father’s house”… again, he tried to order Lazarus around! And not only that but he wants to save his brothers by bringing them to repentance. But Abraham sees though this charade as well. Those brothers will repent only to the point of avoiding the fires of hell, not because they truly care about the poor, they care about themselves. Abraham tells the rich man that all he and his brothers needed to know has been in front of them in Moses and the prophets. There was no secret and no surprises, he ended up right where the law said he would if he lived like he lived.
“No, no, father, if someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.” Abraham replied, “If they do not listen to the law, how will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead?”
You know Jesus wasn’t always a nice guy was he? He’s pounding on the rich pretty hard here… so what are we who have all of this stuff supposed to do, get rid of it? Are we worthless if we, too, don’t go the dogs?
Well first, this is not a message against wealth. This is a parable about the tension that comes with possessions. Wealth and stuff have a tremendous ability to do good, but with that potential comes the potential for that wealth and that stuff to demand that we worship it and not God. We fall into the trap of pretending that our wealth and our stuff is ours when, in fact, it is God’s and we merely steward it for a short time. What we do with that stuff, as this parable drives home, affects our souls.
That great chasm that is fixed between the rich man in Hades and Lazarus in heaven exists in this life as well, but in this life it is about two inches thick, the thickness of the doors we slam shut in the face of poverty, ugliness, outsiders, sickness, in short the reality of most of the world. However, the opposite of poverty is not property. You can come to me and say, pastor, if I give everything away then I’ll be on the street too, well, besides the obvious answer of “so what?” there is also the fact that making everyone poor is not as important as bringing everyone into community with each other. When we worship God in this church we join with our siblings across the world, do you think they all have a building like this? That they will eat a buffet luncheon afterwards? How can we ignore them when they are us and we are them? We cannot be whole until we are all together, oh calling ourselves Christian is so much easier than actually following Christ but that is what we must do, our souls depend on it. Writing a check isn’t going to get you off the hook either, do you think that if that rich man had made up a little to-go box for Lazarus one day and handed out his window that he would have been spared the torments of Hades? More is expected of us brothers and sisters.
Abraham says, if they will not listen to Moses they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
Even if someone rises from the dead. We do have someone who has risen from the dead, we do! Christ himself has crossed the great chasm between us and God to bring us home again… he gave his life for ours and what price tag would you put on that?
Do you get tired of churches asking you for money? What would you say if we told you that we’re trying to help you save your soul? What if we told you that the need becomes greater because we are a church that is about opening doors and gates not closing them and everytime we do open a door we see another outsider to be brought in, another lost sheep to gather into the fold, another house to build, another ton of cement to be mixed. See that’s the problem with being a part of a community that wants to be community we look out there and respond to what we see. And we believe that when we do something for the poor that we aren’t doing it for Christ but we are doing it TO Christ.
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead… the chasm has been crossed… your stuff isn’t really yours… your neighbors are people you haven’t even seen yet… let’s go knock down some doors. Amen.