This Word of our Lord is to be understood with the message and setting of the Gospel we heard last week concerning the parable of the unjust Steward where Jesus was primarily talking to His disciples about a man who eventually saw the need to use his limited time not to gain worldly acceptance, but to prepare for the future, death and eternity by using wisely the temporal things they possess.
The Pharisees were listening to this and when Jesus said in verse 13 that “No servant can serve two masters; for he will either hate the one or love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” Jesus hit a raw nerve with the Pharisees who were listening because in verse 14 we are told that when “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, they scoffed at him”. Unperturbed Jesus went on and hit them with an inconvenient truth, that “You are those who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts”
In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus addressing them and explaining to them his message, and he does this by holding up a mirror of themselves in the rich man as they are told that as the rich man enjoyed his wealth that they too, the Pharisees were lovers of money. But a significant connection is to as what they are actually doing wrong, -which both the rich man and the Pharisees don’t understand, and before we ridicule them, we need to take a step back-because the Pharisees did not break and enter houses or rage and pillage, just like we are not told of any such like activity of the rich man. For both of these, seen in the context of their world-what are they actually doing wrong?
So Jesus gives them a stark picture and shows the rich man and Lazarus as polar opposites in regards to their worldly situation, as far apart as east to west.The rich man is not struggling in the middle class, the scriptures description of his purple cloths of fine linen were the height of expensive fashion and the description of the gates that Lazarus lay at indicate his house was more like a palace, or at the least a mansion which stresses that this guy is loaded, just as we see Lazarus as homeless, destitute and with no social security back then, if he received some scraps from the rich man’s table he would consider himself fortunate and point of the dogs licking his sores is significant as this does not show sentiment towards Lazarus as dogs were considered unclean, so confirming that he was both in physical misery and an outcast. Lazarus is at the bottom of the heap.
But then the great leveler, death, and we see the roles reversed. Lazarus has been received in heaven and the rich man in hell and in his torment simply asks Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue from a single drop of water from Lazarus finger.
But there is no drop of water for him, just as there had been no food for Lazarus before. The measure by which the rich man lived was now being measured to him, and the irony abounds, while in his earthly life, the rich man feasted and lived the high life and I note that the scriptures don’t say he actually gave the scraps to Lazarus, they only say Lazarus wanted them-in his earthly life it is like he doesn’t even notice Lazarus at his gate. Yet here he knows his name, suggesting he had seen Lazarus in his pain, actually knew him but had ignored him, looked the other way, or mainly only looked after number one-himself.
Abraham’s response is not harsh, his address as son is tender, but gives a reasoned refusal to his request and points out that in his earthly life he could have spent time with the things of God and been enlightened in the Word of God, but he chose the “good things”-fine linen, daily merriment and feasting. He had chosen what he wanted and now he must abide by his decision, and now there’s a great chasm between him and Lazarus, as far from east to west-and it cannot be crossed.
The Rich man knows his situation and implies if he knew of all the information he needed, he would have acted differently, and now asks that Lazarus be sent back from the dead to warn his brothers. This guy is one serious wheeler and dealer, no wonder he was such a good accumulator of wealth in his time of earth.
Again we see the contrast between Lazarus and the rich man, because while the rich man is still asking for, negotiating, wheeling and dealing Lazarus is silent like he has been throughout the parable. He neither complained about his time on earth, nor does he gloat to the rich man after death, and nor does he express any resentment of the rich man’s endeavors to have him sent on errands-Throughout, he accepts what God sends him.
But Abraham denies his request and says you had all the information you required because in his response in referring to Moses and the prophets means he had the scriptures, he had the poor at his gate-but denied both. This all seems straight forward, so why was this so confronting to the Pharisees? To answer that we look at the charge against the rich man? Was he charged because he was rich, no? Was he told to sell all his belongings and become poor himself, no?
So what was it? It was his total lack of compassion, he put himself first and foremost, and after that had no place for others in need. He had the Word of God, it told him of how he should live, how to use God’s gifts in justice and support of others yet he chose not to.
And in honesty that can be difficult, because like the rich man, I know what I should do-but it is difficult. Look at our society, people work extremely hard, come home exhausted, flop on the lounge, put on the T.V. only be blasted with advertisements imploring that they need this and this: then all of a sudden-we seem to need it, it goes from I would like to have to a I must have. But the Word of the Lord, says no, take a step back so you can see things clearly. And this reminds me of the reporter talking to one of the early Astronauts, who asked what was it like? And he responded, “I looked toward earth, a peaceful blue world shining in the darkness, it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, but then I could see my mind, wars, starvation, famine, arguments over insignificant “garbage”, and I asked, what are we doing down there? And I think to myself, what if I was showing an intergalactic visitor around earth who
remarks what a wonderful place, it’s so beautiful-look at the treasures you have. Your food, your friends, your technology-What a great place. But then he notices amongst my beautiful world, some homeless up the street, people downtrodden, no respect being given to the aged, injustice. Then on T.V. he sees a documentary on countries where scores of people are dying of starvation and where people endeavoring to escape such places, are jailed because, seemingly to him, the one’s with plenty, like myself seem to think they are a threat to my way of life. Right now I think I would be trying to change the subject.
Even more sobering is what if that intergalactic visitor who I was talking to was God the Father? Our God who works in mysterious ways. With one of his most mysterious being his game plan of allowing humans to care for his people. And we do, Christians and non-Christian’s alike. Walt Disney’s only reason for building Disneyland was because when was young he could only look through the gates at the other children enjoying themselves- in theme parks: so as a young child, his dye was set in that he would build a park where all children could afford to visit. Bill gates gives enormous amounts of money to charities. And some may say, yes it must be hard because after giving he’s down to his last few billion. But the point is he doesn’t have to give, and significantly, he hasn’t only been charitable since acquiring his extreme wealth. Because, when he was about to marry, his mother only gave his wife to be one word of advice “our family thing is we give to the needy, way before we became so fortunate, that’s what we do, Bill will not change about that”.
And down to our level, we show compassion to those in need. Being rich is not the problem, and yes we are the rich man-but we do show compassion. But then, I think back to St. Paul’s words-I do what I do not want to do, and don’t do what I want to do. And this is the problem, with our world’s rampant consumerism, our sin; we give, have compassion, but sometimes fall asleep at the wheel. Ironically we know God is working through us and what an honour that is, but we also know our efforts are sometimes tainted, sometimes we’d rather not, and sometimes may look the other way. We have shown compassion as directed by the Word, yet no matter what we do, how much we give-we know we come up short. Our whole life seems like a battle. Now we see we are not only the rich person, we are Lazarus-we need and desire for compassion. Even when we seem to be doing the right thing, it can still seem like its three quarter time, we’re ten goals behind and kicking into the wind and we need a miracle. So what can we do?
General Norman Swartzkof, the commanding general in Desert Storm one when the allied forces regained Kuwait was asked what do you do when in a battle situation and you are confused and are unsure of the direction to take. He responded and said, when in a situation as you have suggested, I return to rule 4 of the US forces handbook, which states make a decision, back it all the way and do not second guess yourself. Some where do we go when we need a miracle, so we don’t have to second guess ourselves about where we stand in relation to our life to what God desired of us. We turn to Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Who does not reject our request for a drop of water to sooth our lips in our torment, but gushes forward soothing water in our baptism. Gives us himself in Holy Communion and in His Word So that we no longer need to doubt, but to go forward to meet God the Father who no longer sees our ways and shortfalls, but sees us washed clean by the lamb his Son, and saved in faith in Christ alone your sins are taken from you as far apart as from east to west and welcomed home as His good and trustworthy servant. Amen.