Sermon Sep 25, 2022: "The parable of Lazarus and the rich man"
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God”.
Our parable today from the Gospel of Luke is one of the least familiar of Jesus’ parables. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man. It is not a difficult parable to understand but it is a very difficult parable to hear.
Riches cannot save you. Holding onto “stuff” cannot save you. We want security, we want the gates and the things we can touch to protect us from the things we cannot see or touch. We want certainty in an uncertain world.
As humans evolved and developed we came to self consciousness. We began to realize that we are finite. That we will die. And this recognition and realization became part of our shared experience. And our early relatives who realized this also feared it. Feared what happens next? Feared nothingness. A fear of death became part of what it means to be human.
These fears have led to many things, not least of which is organized religion. A way to try to manage the fears that have plagued us and perhaps continue to do so. The fear has also led to prejudice, hate, war, and division.
Our parable today is about division. Some scholars claim that the parable originated in an Egyptian myth. For Luke’s audience Hades was just a place where dead people went. What is the parable about for us?
We have the story of two very different lives - lived in parallel. We have Lazarus (who is named) and the rich man who is not. The rich man lives a life of luxury and abundance. He feasts daily and it seems that nothing that he might want is denied to him. Then there is Lazarus - a man who does not seem to have a home. He is crouched at the gates of the rich man, hoping for something. A hope that is denied. He gets nothing.
This is a parable that is very easy to visualize. I can see the drama in my minds eye.
I can see what is happening. You can see what is happening. But the rich man cannot. And perhaps that is the essence of the story. How, we ask, can the rich many not see Lazarus sitting outside his gates - how long was Lazarus there? It must have been for sometime! How can the rich man not know he was there? How can a human being be invisible?
We have always behaved this way. We are still behaving this way. There are people - sisters and brothers who have been made invisible by those who have more.
Riches cannot save you. Holding onto “stuff” cannot save you. Our cultural fears around death drive us to try to elevate ourselves over others - to try to find security. To make sisters and brothers invisible so we feel more visible.
That is not the kingdom Jesus taught about. Jesus said I have come to bring abundant life. Making someone invisible is not about abundance.
In the world of fiction or science fiction invisibility is often seen as a superpower. But in reality it is not powerful. It is a complete lack of power.
In our parable even after death the rich man does not really see Lazarus. He speaks to Abraham as if Lazarus is not even there. For the rich man Lazarus remains mostly invisible. A tool to be used for his own purposes.
And Abraham will have none of it. He reminds the rich man that he enjoyed the life he had. He had not followed the law and the prophets - had not followed Moses’ teaching. He had a chance.
This story always makes me think about Charles Dicken’s story of Scrooge. But in Scrooge a change takes place in the heart of the man and he avoids the fate he was headed toward.
For the rich man there was now recognition that he had not lived as he should have and when he appeals to Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to try to save or convince his siblings its a no go. Abraham reminds the rich man that he had everything he needed. He had the scriptures - he had the Torah - he had the example of the law and the prophets. Someone coming back from the dead was not going to convince anyone who was not ready to listen to what was already there.
And Luke’s audience knew what was there. They knew the Hebrew scriptures. They knew the Shema or the great commandment - and they would have known Jesus’ addition to it. Love your neighbour as yourself.
How can we open our eyes to be sure that we are truly seeing our sisters and brothers?
Hate and prejudice and discrimmination and racism are old evils in our history and they remain in our time. This diminishes us. This diminishes the Kingdom of God. Jesus preached a Gospel that demanded love and justice and equality for all. It was a radical message in his time and remains so for us. Jesus wanted a fulness for humanity and that should be what we are working for as well.
To open our eyes and see what has been invisible to us. To open our hearts to fully love our neighbour. To build people up instead of trying to climb over them. To work for justice, to demand equality, to let love conquer hate. And to lay aside our fears.