Readings for the day (Lectionary 26 – Sunday, September 26, 2016):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Scholars aren’t really sure if the Lazarus in this parable is the same Lazarus who was a brother to Mary and Martha that we read about in John’s Gospel. But there is so much more to this parable than determining which Lazarus Jesus is talking about here.
With interpreting this parable, how far do we really take it? Do we use the parable as a way to give us a glimpse into what will happen after we die? We could. In the parable, we see that both the rich man and Lazarus (the poor man) die about the exact same time; and it appears that they immediately either go to Hades (for the rich man) or rest in the arms of Abraham (for Lazarus). Does that mean that immediately after we take our final breath that we will either be in the fires of hell or enjoying the comforts of heaven? Maybe. This parable also brings up questions of will those in heaven and those in hell be able to communicate with one another? And this also brings up questions about the Resurrection and the New Jerusalem that we are told will be on this earth, in this place. Is where the rich man and Lazarus at in the parable (heaven and hell) just a temporary place before the Final Judgement? We could certainly try to carefully analyze this parable trying to find clues into something that none of us know anything about: what life after death might be like.
But this parable could also be taken in another way, as to say that if you’re rich you are bad and being poor should be the better desired social status. Since none of us have our own private jets to fly us around or any dedicated chauffeurs to drive us places, it’s not too difficult for us to write ourselves out of this category and to say that people like Trump and Clinton are to be considered the rich. We’re not rich like them, so we can’t possibly be the rich man in this parable. And since we wouldn’t consider ourselves to be poor either, we can figure that maybe we’re just off the hook.
As Americans, we certainly aren’t poor, but we wouldn’t consider ourselves to be rich either. Except, we are rich – especially compared to people in other countries. We are rich in this country. And we like being rich. We like being comfortable. We have nice clothes. We have plenty of food to eat whenever we get hungry. We have more possessions than what we really need. We are rich with blessings. We are rich. Now being rich is not in itself a bad thing. But we are like this unnamed rich man. We sit in our comfortable homes, protected from many of the poverty issues in this world. We don’t have fences or gates around our homes, but we do have corn fields that separate us from the poverty issues that many in urban areas face. Let’s face it, living here in rural Minnesota, we are comfortable.
Being comfortable is not a bad thing, but there are poverty and hunger issues in our local community. It’s just easier, however, to ignore the issues rather than to face them head on. We prefer to enjoy our comforts and riches, and neglect the Lazarus’ in our community. When talking with Abraham, the rich man makes a request that Lazarus come and dip the tip of his finger in water to cool the rich man’s tongue. The rich man referred to Lazarus by name. He knew who Lazarus was. And why wouldn’t he know him? Lazarus sat outside the rich man’s gate probably every day for quite some time. Since the rich man was known for his fancy clothes and abundant feasts, Lazarus could pretty much be guaranteed some sort of meal, gathered through the table scraps that were thrown out to the dogs. So Lazarus sat at the gate, or like sitting at the end of your driveway. Lazarus would have been the first person any guest of the rich man would have seen. And with all of the parties this rich man had, he and his guests certainly would have seen and known who this Lazarus was. They just didn’t want to know. Because of our riches and comforts, we too don’t want to know. There are poverty and hunger issues in our own community, and in surrounding communities. But it’s a whole lot easier to simply ignore the issues rather than facing them head on. We prefer to enjoy our riches and neglect the Lazarus’ in our community. However, just because we ignore the issues doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. They do exist! The problem for us is that if we acknowledge the real issues in our community, then we can no longer play the ignorance card. If we’re ignorant, then we don’t feel guilty, for then we can simply say, “I didn’t know.”
But salvation is not dependent on how much or how little wealth you have. There will be rich people who will be saved and poor people who aren’t. And there will also be poor people who will be saved and rich people who aren’t. The bigger question is: where do you find glory. The faithless heart prefers to find glory in itself and to find its joy in this earth, in money and wealth and power. But the faithful, even though they may have to fight off the dogs of this world to survive, find glory not in ourselves, but in Christ. And we find joy in this earth, not in money and wealth, but in the Word of God. This simple word that we say each year, so simple and yet so true, so real, so complete, that there can be no question in our hearts. “He is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
This is the reason why we don’t have to worry about what will happen after we die. We don’t have to tirelessly try to figure out exactly what will happen when we do take our final breath. Instead, we put our faith in God and trust that Jesus is indeed alive and real. And we hold on to that same hope that Mary sang so long ago in her Magnificat, “Jesus has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” One day, when Jesus returns there will be no more rich and poor, no more powerful and lowly, for we all will simply be viewed as God’s children at that great heavenly banquet with feasting sumptuously every day for all of eternity. Amen.
© 2016 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.