The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[a] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[b] 24 He 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.’ 25 But 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. 26 Besides 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.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’31 He 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.’”
How many times do you drive by or walk by a homeless person and wonder about their life? What’s their background? What are they thinking? How did they get to this place in life? We all have those kinds of thoughts and we all develop certain ideas or stereo- types in order to categorize and somehow reconcile with ourselves that we may or may not have to react to them.
Yet, they are humans, they are our brothers and sisters. I’m reminded of that every time I drive by someone asking for money, or, occasionally, when folks come by our church.
Now, there are ways we can help them beyond simple handouts. There are some resources in our city that can help. But, they best thing we can do, and I try to remind myself of this, is to look folks in the eyes, to connect with them, not dismiss them so quickly. And, listen as best as I can.
Now, I know there are a lot of stories, and having worked with homeless folks as a Social Work major and in several projects over the years, I’ve heard many of the same stories. Yet, these are still people that God values.
In our gospel story, there is a homeless man, a beggar, Lazarus. He was crippled and left at the gate of a wealthy man’s house to beg every day. It’s interesting to note that Lazarus is named, but the wealthy man is not. The author of this story is saying that Jesus thinks that this poor man is important and known by God. The wealthy man is extremely rich…richer than most, had banquets daily, wore purple, which was a mark of wealth back in the day, and he obviously liked to wear very expense clothes.
Lazarus was so down the social ladder and in dire straights, that even dogs came to lick his sores…not to bring him comfort, but in this story, to add insult to injury. He was helpless.
The beggar dies, as does the wealthy man. In Hades, the afterlife as depicted in this story. The wealthy man is in torment….he sees that Lazarus is there, and he’s with Abraham, the founder of Israel. He asks for Abraham to comfort him…and, even in his death, still looked past Lazarus…and addressed Abraham, because he was important in his mind.
He asks for pity, for simply a drop of water. Yet Abraham says no, and asks him to remember that Lazarus was with his lifetime and he never reached out to help Lazarus. And that now Lazarus is comforted, and Abraham is not.
So, the wealthy man is still clueless, and asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn him…still thinking highly of himself, and not Lazarus.
Abraham again replies no, they’ve had Moses and the prophets, that’s enough.
They need to listen to what they’ve been taught…and, even if someone comes back from the dead, even then they won’t listen.
This man, the wealthy man, was probably a decent person in his life, he just didn’t listen, didn’t have time or need to live “awake” to the realities right outside of his door. I was reminded of this last week in a conversation with a friend of mine who is an aide to the mayor of Cincinnati. In the development world, there are folks who are good people, but they are so used to moving ahead, that they don’t think about the folks around them….and, because of that, they don’t listen and that causes problems down the road…
The wealthy man was comfortable. But, even though he had heard the prophets, knew the stories, didn’t move to action in his life of being friends with the poor or trying to comfort them on include them.
In Hades, the afterlife, it’s important to know that God’s presence is still there, it’s everywhere. As it says in Psalm 139, there’s nowhere we can go to escape God’s presence.
CS Lewis talks about this in the Great Divorce, a wonderful fictional book I’d encourage everyone to read. Folks when they die, ride a bus to heaven…yet, many of them settle for hell, a small crack in heaven that they make bigger…they can ride the bus back into heaven…yes, they could have a second chance in hell even, by why would they change if they lived their lives a certain way, it’s harder in hell…so, they stay there…and maybe that is hell, being stuck in a certain way of living or understanding that keeps us from ex- periencing the wide expanse of God’s grace and joy in life with God and others in deep relational community.
The wealthy man is tormented by the heat, but Lazarus, who is there also, yet, he’s not tormented, on the contrary, he’s feeling the warmth of God’s love. He spent his life in poverty and crippled, yet not complaining and experienced God’s grace in humility.
Friends, we have the gift of the life we’ve been given. We can love those around us, everyone, as best we can. We must though ask God to wake us towards others around us. If we want to experience spiritual growth, which is ultimately an understanding of God’s radically inclusive and graceful love for us and others that moves us towards being the humans that God created us to be, then we must be willing to be present with those we share space with, whenever we share space with them…loving them where they are.
This parable, like many in Luke that we’ve read, reminds us that we have barriers in our world that can cause relational disconnect or fragmented lives. Barriers like wealth inequality that prevents us from seeing the other. It’s not wrong to be wealthy, but the way of Jesus and the scriptural trajectory leads us towards a better understanding that we can’t let having money or not having money prevent us from sharing life with each other, and that we are called to work towards hospitality and caring for folks.
Let’s ask ourselves how we can see beyond the safety of the walls we’ve built around us to those right outside those walls…and go to them, be with them, and remove whatever separates us from ourselves, others, and God.