Gospel: Luke 16:19–31
One man is wearing fine clothes – linen and purple – signs of great wealth and status, while the other was covered instead with sores, festering and icky, something a dog might find delightfully interesting, worth a lick or two at least.
One man dreamed of the possibility of dumpster diving the other man’s trash for a meal, while the Rich Man ate with careless abandon, not even knowing that his crumbs produced enough food to keep another man alive.
Both men died and that is when things began to change.Final outcomes became final outcomes. The time for mercy was past.
'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.'
Lazarus is standing there next to Father Abraham, but the Rich man fails his reality check. Like when they were both alive, the rich man fails to take notice of Lazarus; Lazarus, the invisible.
The rich man directs his attention instead to Father Abraham, begging him to send Lazarus so that his tongue might be cooled. Doesn’t ask Lazarus. Doesn’t beg his forgiveness. Doesn’t repent of his selfish past behavior; his poor stewardship of what God has entrusted to him. No. He wants Lazarus to come on down from paradise to touch his tongue with water. His dusty hot ash-dry tongue; the same tongue that once tasted sweetness, that had feasted sumptuously day by day while poor Lazarus longed to eat the scraps that fell on the floor.
In the great reversal, the poor suffering Lazarus is at last comforted and the rich man, blind to his sins, blind to the suffering in the world at his own doorstep and one imagines in all other places as well, blind to his own excesses, this blind-to-the-poor-and-suffering Rich Man is forever in torment. No chance to change that. But wait! Knowing that his sentence has been passed, a spark of, what shall we call it – compassion – finds some life – but note: not compassion for the poor. Not for the hungry, sore infested other people like Lazarus in the world, but for the Rich Man’s own brothers. He wants to help his brothers. For Father Abraham to send Lazarus to them (still ignoring Lazarus who is standing right there). No repentance. No asking for forgiveness. No confession. No acknowledgement of the poor long suffering Lazarus who is standing right there.
In our own ELCA’s resources on hunger and sustainable life for all we read that…
“When the sun sets in Africa this evening, more than 10,000 people will have died – today alone – from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. This same evening, more than a billion people around the world will go to bed hungry or in desperate need because they live on less than one dollar each day. More than 20,000 people will have died simply because they were too poor to live. In the Sudan and the Middle East, people will have spent another day in fear of the violent conflict that has existed for as long as they can remember. In Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean, a child will have been orphaned every 14 seconds of the day that has just ended.” Approximately 1.02 billion people are hungry around the world today, an increase of an estimated 100 million people since 2008
Further, it goes on to say, “As a church we confess that we are in bondage to sin and submit too readily to the idols and injustices of economic life. We often rely on wealth and material goods more than God and close ourselves off from the needs of others. Too uncritically we accept assumptions, policies, and practices that do not serve the good of all. Through the cross of Christ, God forgives our sin and frees us from bondage to false gods.”
Did you all hear that: frees us from the bondage to false gods. We have a choice how then we shall live, whether or not we shall open our eyes and see the suffering around us or create a fiction in which we shape our own world to make ourselves heroes by stripping away all judgment of the choices that we have made and written out any thought of confession and repentance for our true reality.
There is a calculator online at http://www.globalrichlist.com/ which one can enter one’s salary and benefits, one’s total income, and see how one compares to the rest of the seven point two billion people in the world. We spend so much time comparing ourselves to those with more than what we have - anyone remember that show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?” Think about who graces the covers of magazines and who everyone is talking about – those who are rich and who have what we do not have. When I ran my income through the world economic calculator I found out that I am among the top 1/10th of 1% of the world’s population in terms of income. If you own a car, my friends, you are among the top 8% in the world. We need to re-focus away from how poor we think we are, to how much we have as compared to our brothers and sisters around the world. And do not for a moment think that arguing to oneself that this is a more expensive place to live, this country of ours, relieves any of us of the responsibility to think about all that we have been entrusted with and for what purpose.
Back to our Lutheran Statement on economic life:
Finally, the statement reminds us, “Through human decisions and actions, God is at work in economic life. Economic life is intended to be a means through which God's purposes for humankind and creation are to be served. When this does not occur, as a church we cannot remain silent because of who and whose we are.”
In this parable, Jesus is not vilifying the rich, instead Jesus is trying to help them see that they are being trusted to use the wealth entrusted to them to help the poor. For those who are people of means, of wealth, to claim personal responsibility for the choices that they make. This is not about making people feel guilty, but about giving people with means the eyes to see the poor around them, to give them permission to act, to demand that they act as followers of Jesus. We are such people.
We are such people!
Let us then in Christ claim both who we are and what we are called to do in Christ’s name.