“The Rich Man and Lazarus”

Luke 16:19-31

Proper 21C, September 25, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 16:19-31

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.

The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 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.’ 

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. 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.’ 

He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 

He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 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.’”

| Centering Prayer |

Our Gospel lesson for this morning provides options;

We like choice, don’t we?

There are opportunities for the faithful Christian to make choices.

On the one hand,

It would be fully understandable for one to examine these words of Jesus

Through the lens of personal, eternal salvation

And believe that it is the intent of Jesus

and the point of Luke

That this is a parable about heaven

and the eternal disposition of the soul.

Does death deliver us to our eternal fate?

The apostle Paul suggest

that the hope for life resides on in the resurrection

(see 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians).

Is this a parable meant to convey essential truth about heaven and hell, and what happens to you after you die?

On the other hand,

If we pay attention to Luke’s context,

From which we’ve been reading these past few Sundays,

We recognize that this parable follows the passage of:

The Widow’s coin,

The Prodigal’s inheritance,

And the Dishonest Manager’s handling of debt.

Is there a trend here?

(yes, of course there is)

Luke has been talking about money, treasures, and riches.

So why wouldn’t he be continuing the theme here?

This is parable of Jesus,

a fictional story created by Jesus,

about a broken man named Lazarus

and a rich man, commonly known as Di-ves.

This parable is a capstone in Luke,

a pinnacle of successive stories Jesus uses

to teach about the dangers of wealth.

When we experience this story,

consider these words echoing in the background:

+ Mary declaring her praise of God in the first chapter of Luke:

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly.”

+ When we experience this story,

consider a discreet, angry voice in the third chapter of Luke,

John the Baptist warning

“God is able from these stones

to raise up children to Abraham,”

and “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

+ When we experience this story,

consider the voice of Jesus

who just taught in the sixth chapter of Luke

that “the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and the hungry,

but woe to those who are rich and who are full.”

Eternal life?

Dangers of wealth?

Yes.

The curious will note

This is the only parable Jesus creates

where he includes a name: Lazarus.

Jesus makes the story personal and intimate.

Jesus casts the Lazarus as someone who was disgusting.

It gives the parable a sense of familiarity, doesn’t it?

We all know someone who makes us sick.

The master storyteller

Tells his tale that

Lazarus was a despised man,

who threw himself at the gate of a rich man,

or was dumped there

(as the Greek suggests)

so that he might beg;

perhaps even obtain some of the wasted bread

used to clean dirty fingers.

(They didn’t have paper napkins at the time)

He was covered with sores.

Lazarus was seen.

He was known.

He was identified.

He was so weak,

he couldn’t prevent the dogs from licking his sores.

Jesus’ audience of rich Pharisees

probably were saying to themselves,

what did he do to deserve this?

for it was believed that hardships

where caused by God

as a result of unrighteous behavior.

Who sinned?

What was the sin that God punished with such a response?

Lazarus dies.

Did he die of starvation? disease? infection? or did the dogs …?

Premature death is just one of the consequences of being poor.

(Sigh)

Angels came,

gathered him up,

and carried him to Abraham.

There, Lazarus completes eternity in the bosom of Abraham.

Throughout this parable,

Lazarus is never spoken to,

and he never speaks.

The lowly is lifted up.

Then there is the rich man, Di-ves.

This is really a parable about him.

He lives a pampered life,

dressed like royalty in purple robes and fine linen,

feasting sumptuously every day,

using bread to wipe his greasy fingers

and throwing it on the floor.

The rich Pharisees probably thought he was blessed by God,

because of his accumulated excess.

Wealth is a sign of God’s approval, isn’t it?

And the rich man had more wealth than he could shake a stick at.

Wealthy often see wealth as a sign of God’s blessing.

The poor?

Not so much.

The rich man probably thought he had been blessed abundantly.

He overlooked the fact that Lazarus was begging at his gate.

In fact his table and his gate

separated himself from all the riffraff of society.

Have you noticed

that once one has achieved a minimum amount of money

to become self-supportive,

additional wealth only serves

to become additional insulation between the wealthy and the poor?

… and so it was with the Rich man.

Di-ves died and was buried

(notice the contrast to Lazarus,

who was immediately whisked away to the bosom of Abraham).

We must assume

The Rich man didn’t take his wealth with him.

He and his treasure were parted.

The Rich man, Jesus reports, was taken to hell, Hades, as it was called.

He was tormented and in flames.

There wasn’t much he could do.

But he could look up;

far away, in heaven

he could see Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.

He recognized Lazarus!

This privileged millionaire knew Lazarus enough to avoid him on earth, yet he was able to recognize him in heaven.

How convenient.

In the torments and flames of hell,

Di-ves speaks as if Lazarus didn’t exist:

Father Abraham,” he calls,

hoping to play his trump card

(I’m one of your children, a family member, a child of Israel).

“Send Lazarus

to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue;

for I’m in agony in these flames.”

Lazarus is right there.

Yet, Di-ves acts as if he is invisible.

If you don’t see the poor, they must not exist.

(Sigh)

He acts with callous disregard.

He acts as if Lazarus is his servant. Or less.

What nerve!

Agh!

Abraham rebuffs him the first of three times:

“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.”

Di-ves tries a second time: “Father”

(another foolish attempt to play on Abraham’s goodness),

send Lazarus

“to my father’s house-

for I have five brothers-

that he may warn them,

so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”

He still acts with callous disregard.

Lazarus is no errand boy.

The (formerly) rich man doesn’t get it.

Lazarus isn’t a second-class citizen.

He is selfishly looking out for his own family,

not Lazarus, and no one else, either.

Abraham rebuffs him a second time:

“They have Moses and the prophets;

they should listen to them.”

Moses.

And the prophets.

Listen to the words of Moses in Deuteronomy,

as I’m certain the rich Pharisees knew from childhood:

“Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 15:7)

Consider the prophet, Isaiah, who spoke

“Is not this the fast that I choose; to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cloth them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

“No, Father Abraham,”

Di-ves makes a desperate plead for a third time,

send Lazarus.

“If someone goes to them from the dead,

they will repent.”

Scare them with a ghost.

Consider all those who witness resurrection.

In hind-sight consider

those confronted with the witness of Jesus’ resurrection

who still do not believe.

“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets,

neither will they be convinced

even if someone rises from the dead.”

You can be sure,

All who are in Luke’s post-resurrection audience

Get this ironic joke.

Is this a parable about heaven and hell

Or a story about wealth and riches?

Perhaps it is a little bit of both.

It certainly is a warning

We’d all be prudent to heed.

I’m uncertain God is in the hell creating business.

I do know that humankind has gotten pretty good at making our own hell.

We create hell

when we act with callous disregard for human suffering.

We create hell

when we stereotype and marginalize,

when we talk down to people,

when we use phrases “like them.”

We create hell

when we hurt other people,

either intentionally or unintentionally.

We create our own hell

when we act as if we were better than someone else.

We create our own hell

when we allow abundance, wealth or food

to come between us and someone in need.

We create our own hell

when we refuse to forgive and can’t ask for forgiveness.

We create our own hell

when we fail to love.

Hell is everything we believe, say, and do

that separates us from one another and from our God.

Although nothing can separate God from us,

hell is everything we do to separate ourselves from God.

Hell is not created by our loving God.

Hell is created by you and me.

Then when we die,

the hell we’ve created, we are warned,

is 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.”

Unquenchable fire.

Gnashing of teeth.

Everlasting torment.

Fire and flames.

The ability to look up into heaven,

Like Di-ves, and see the results of our evil ways.

Yes, these are images we are given of hell;

the hell that is fixed after our death.

These are images that Jesus gives to us.

They serve as a warning.

It is wise to heed them.

So look to the needs of others,

Those right at our doorstep.

Look to our neighbors in need beyond the horizon.

Restore the broken.

Heal the sick.

Feed the hungry.

Welcome one; welcome all.

Make friends,

Be friends,

Live as friends,

as neighbors,

peaceably in God’s kingdom.

Make hell into a fading memory

That slowly, but surely, fades to black.

Amen.

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