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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lazarus and the rich man

Luke 16:19-31 The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
(from last week, computer was down and couldn't post it)

This Sunday I will meet with our youngest members at Children's Church and read this Gospel to them. It is a wonderfully straightforward tale and doesn't require a great deal of skill to understand. There are two guys, one rich, the other poor. The rich one is very rich, the poor one is destitute. The poor man's desire "for the scraps off the table" implies that there is thoughtless waste. It is an arrogant disregard for the needs of others on display here.

What is Jesus' point? What is Luke trying to communicate to us? Jesus seems to operate from a starting principle that God the Father is unreasonably gracious and kind to us. The Father is the ultimate source of every blessing-physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Jesus expressed His desire for His followers to "give to others as you have received." The model for human actions is God; godliness is our call. Jesus said that this was the revelation of Scripture (the Jewish Bible). Love God and love your neighbor are active verbs, it means seeking the best for the other. That is expressed as worship and obedience to God and helping others. Taking note of the humanity of another, especially one in such wretched conditions, was a possibility for the rich man. He chose, instead, to ignore the situation.

We all, rich or poor, will die. This human existence continues and the parable ends with both men on the other side. There we see a reversal of fortunes. Is it solely because he overlooked the poor man that he is in the Hellish conditions? Doubtful, one can assume that the rich man had a heart set on other things than God. However, the explanation, "you had it good then and he had it bad, now he has it good and you have it bad" does carry a frightful implication for any of us living the good life. Is it the case that most Americans (even many of our poor are rich by historic world standards) are headed for an eternal roasting? I do not think that is the point of the parable. It is important to remember that the story functions as story, not as a didactic, step-by-step explanation of damnation. I do think, though, it is meant to shake us into an awareness about the needs of others and the eternal significance of our choices.

If we are saved by faith, then certainly Jesus means that such faith includes the loving service to others. We do not help the poor because it gets us into heaven. We feed the poor because that is what God does with all of us. Heaven will have no place for anyone who ignores the needs of others. Jesus' disciples need to hear the words of Jesus and live them. We need to have an eye open for the hungry at our own doorstep. It is what Jesus would have us do.

In conclusion, though, I share something about the parable which takes us deeper. It is present in the title of the blog today. Did you catch it? Lazarus. It is a name. It is the only person Jesus gives a name in any parable. I remember thirty years ago when we studied the Gospel of John that the professor mentioned that there were common elements in John and Luke, though they were not parallels like the Synoptics. It raises the question of the relationship of the two Gospels. One of those is the the names Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

In John 11 (and 12) there are two sisters (its "their" village!) who have a sick brother. He dies, and Jesus raises him a few days later. In John's Gospel this triggers a decision to kill Jesus and Lazarus. The man being raised from the dead does not elicit faith but the opposite. The 'punchline' of the parable is interesting "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."  I have always thought this was Jesus referring to Himself, but I wonder now if it isn't more likely it is Lazarus. In Luke the two sisters are featured in a brief story. Martha complains Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet while she is busy with all the tasks. Jesus declares Martha is distracted and Mary chose best and will not be denied. Lazarus, the brother, does not appear.

What does it all mean? It is fascinating to speculate but in the end, we do not know. However, it is probable that there is a relationship of sorts. Prayer and study take us so far, at some point we let the Word of God have its way with us in secret places....

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