Rev. Michelle Wahila
19"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted
sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 27He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'31He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead..'"
The strange pericope of the rich man and Lazarus follows concluding remarks from the previous parable, "No slave can serve two masters... You cannot serve God and wealth," found earlier in verse 13. The Pharisees, who Luke describes as 'lovers of money,' ridiculed this teaching on wealth. Seemingly the Pharisees had comfortably joined God and wealth together. The Pharisees cannot simply be dismissed as godless materialists whose religion was merely a façade.
Their criticism of Jesus' viewpoint about wealth was rooted in their Judaic religious heritage. Traditional wisdom made a link between wealth and blessing. To the Pharisees, the word was clear: "obey God and you will be blessed in war, in the marketplace, in the field and at home." It was an understandable conclusion but ultimately a wrong one, and an unfortunate pairing that not even the life of Christ could stamp out. This understanding of the Scriptures remains prevalent in some Christian circles. Today, we call this pairing the prosperity or "health and wealth" gospel.
This story begins with the blessings of prosperity for an unnamed man, who in his earthly life was rich with the finest things. The man lived in a large home with a gate, and wore clothes made with purple dye (a true touch of luxury for that era). His garments were of the highest quality – made with fine linen. The man also feasted sumptuously every day.
The rich man's life was in stark contrast to Lazarus' life. Lazarus was a poor beggar who laid outside the rich man's gate. Lazarus had nothing; he longed to receive even the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. As he laid at the gate, the rich man's dogs licked the open wounds upon Lazarus's body, only adding to his misery.
During his life, the only ones who seemed to notice Lazarus were the rich man's dogs, but when death came, it brought a great reversal for both men. The rich man died and was buried. We can assume that in his last earthly act, he is given a funeral fit for a king, corresponding to his riches. A remnant of his former pride, his burial may even have reflected his desire to carry over some of his fortune into the afterlife. In contrast, left unburied, Lazarus's body likely lay out in the open at the mercy of the wildlife or was dishonorably thrown into some pit. Lazarus, though, is carried away by the angels and brought into Abraham's embrace. The great reversal reveals that Lazarus is given a "place of honor, rest and bliss in the afterlife."
Death was common to both men. Lazarus was carried off by angels into Abraham's rest and that was more blissful than 1,000 kingdoms. But the rich man was destined to eternal torments and that was terrifying, something to be redeemed, if possible by 1,000 lives. In his life, the rich man was too busy filling himself with the pleasures of the world to see that his neighbor lay in filth, thirst and hunger. The rich man reflects to us like a mirror that our earthly pursuits are but vanity and that those pursuits distract us from what is good, righteous and faithful.
The rich man lived with a kind of vain innocence that allowed him to live his life of ease, avoiding contact with what surrounded him. While the rich man may not have been a villain, his innocence did not excuse him. The rich man probably wasn't trying to ignore God by ignoring Lazarus. He claimed the faith of Abraham but, "his mistake was that never for one moment had he ever got round [sic] to taking it seriously."
The "rich man" in us is equally preoccupied with self and too busy to see the needs of the ones sitting right outside our gates: our colleagues, friends, spouses and even our children. We dig great relational chasms unbridgeable because of our inattentive ways of life that leave us empty and poor.
Just as the rich man went about his life in a manner that he believed to be worthy, we should be cautious in the ways that we busy ourselves, even with the work of God. One writer frames the problem from Satan's point of view (which might be easier to hear because of it's sinister but almost comical point of view):
"Satan said, 'We can't keep the Christians from going to church; we can't keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth; we can't even keep the Christians from forming intimate, abiding relationships with Christ – once they gain this connection with Christ, our power over them is broken. So, let them go to their churches; let them have their lifestyles that are conservative, but let's steal their time, so they can't gain that close relationship with Christ... Distract them from maintaining closeness with Christ.'
'How shall we do this?' shouted his fallen angels.
He replied, 'Keep them busy in the non-essentials of life and invent innumerable schemes to occupy their minds. Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, and borrow, borrow, borrow...'
He added, 'Even in their recreation, let them be excessive. Have them return from their recreation exhausted, disquieted, and unprepared for the coming week. Don't let them reflect on God's wonders... Keep them busy, busy, busy... Let them be involved in winning souls, but crowd their lives with so many good causes they have no time to seek after the Lord.'"
Satirical perhaps, but it wasn't until the rich man was in the depths of hell that he took the time to see Lazarus and to seek the Lord. The rich man "looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side," and he called out to Abraham, "Father..." But the rich man had already dug a great chasm that kept him too busy to see the kingdom of God in the one laying outside his gate.
The kingdom of God shows up where we least expect it. "We don't expect it to show up in the gap between the bearable, even pleasant, or luxurious living conditions of some and the unbearable, inhumane living conditions of others... But the kingdom of God is not a prisoner to our expectations. "
We can so easily miss the kingdom that Abraham admits: some will not see the truth "even if someone rises from the dead." The world has seen one rise from the dead. And He came that we might see that even the poorest of beggars can be a rich man in Him.
Jesus was the rich man who became poor for our sakes. He came not just to dip his finger in the pool to ease our agony, but to give the living water that we might never thirst again. In his kingdom, all receive not merely crumbs from the table, but a feast that he has prepared. Jesus has come to provide for all, rich and poor, those on the inside and those on the outside – all the Lazarus's who are crippled by sin and left to die.
Jesus sees our Lazarus poverty and brokenness, but He doesn't step over us as we lay at his gate. He doesn't ignore our needs. Instead he directs our eyes to where true riches can be found – the riches that poured forth from the cross. In those riches we see who God truly is – how God heals our brokenness and the brokenness of the world. Jesus directed the children of Abraham, and directs us still, to faith that requires us to open our eyes to see the ridiculous way of the cross.
As Abraham explained the great chasm that had been created, he noted that the chasm had been fixed so that those with him (in heaven), could not pass to those in Hades. That's quite ridiculous: who would want to go from heaven to hell? For perhaps the poor beggar, who had never been seen in his life by the rich man was ready to do so – "to comfort the one who refused to comfort him; to help the one who refused to help him."
For that is the love of Christ. Jesus did those things for us on the cross. This is the love that has been given to us, by the one who did cross the chasm of hell that we might be raised and given new eyes to see.
New eyes see the broken and the broken-hearted.
New eyes see where comfort is needed and where wounds need to be bound because new eyes see the cross before them.
Let us keep sight of the cross. May our eyes daily be opened to the myriad ways God is pouring out His merciful riches, for all of His children to share. May we be given new eyes to see, new hearts to comfort and new hands to serve. In the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit, Amen.