9/25/2016 Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 16:19-31.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It has often been said, “Money is the root of all evil.” Well, if you ever wondered where that statement comes from, today you have the answer. It comes straight out of I Timothy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all rich people are evil. Not even the rich man in today’s gospel is condemned for being rich. It is his indifferent and uncaring attitude towards poor Lazarus right outside his door that gets him in hot water with Jesus. In order to help us understand this important point, Jesus tells us a parable about two neighbors – two men who see each other every day. Of course they don’t see each other socially. They do not share the same social status, but there is contact as every day the rich man cannot avoid a beggar named Lazarus who is at his front gate.
Now, the rich man would have felt very comfortable living in our present time. After all, he is a progressive sort of guy. He is self-indulgent and this is the age of self-indulgency. So surely he would fit in as a connoisseur, a lover of the arts, one who knows and appreciates fine living and four-star restaurants. For, as Jesus points out, this man is clothed in purple, the color that only the upper echelon and high priests could afford.
Lazarus, on the other hand, is a poor man living in the same community as the rich man. He is literally starving at the gate of a man who has everything. Jesus tells us that he would have been more than satisfied with the scraps of food that fell from the rich man’s table, but even these scraps of greasy bread were denied him as the scraps were probably collected by the hired help and fed to the dogs that licked Lazarus’ running sores. This means that the dogs ate better than this poor, ill beggar.
Lazarus is not “out of sight and therefore out of mind,” as we might say. He is not living in a ghetto or a remote mountain shack. Neither is he sleeping in an alley over a grate or sequestered in a homeless shelter conveniently tucked away in a poor section of the city. Lazarus is lying right at the rich man’s gate. The rich man can’t avoid him for in his comings and goings, he literally is stepping over Lazarus’ body, perhaps looking away in revulsion at the sight of the dogs licking the sores, and then forgetting about the man and what he sees as he makes his way into his mansion. Lazarus barely makes it from day to day, and yet, he is a survivor until one day, he dies, to the surprise of no one (and probably to the relief of the rich man who would no longer have to deal with him). It’s easy to imagine what killed Lazarus, but the cause of death is of no concern. We all owe God a death, as the saying goes; nobody lives forever, not even the rich and powerful. Death, after all, is the great equalizer. Death does not care about your social standing, your color, your gender, or your status within a community. So, it’s not surprising that the rich man dies too.
Here is where the story gets interesting and takes a surprising turn. Lazarus, Jesus says, is carried away by the angel of death into heaven where he occupies the seat of honor next to Abraham, while all that Jesus says about the rich man is that he is buried. This is strange for the rich man’s funeral must have been something that community would remember for years to come. But, of course, that fact fails to impress Jesus. In fact, the funeral means nothing as the rich man is sent to hell. And with this, the position of rich and poor are reversed for all eternity.
Now, this ending should have us all squirming a little in our seats. For, we live in a very rich nation and by the world’s standards, even the poorest among us would be considered wealthy. But, this parable isn’t telling us that a rich person can’t get to heaven. Neither is Jesus saying that he loves the poor and hates the rich – for if he did, he would never have told this parable as a warning. The problem with the rich man is a common one – he is selfish and so self-absorbed that he fails to notice the suffering at his gate. He is indifferent and insensitive to the needs of others and fails to share the blessings he has received in his life time, so he is able to look away and walk by Lazarus as if he doesn’t exist. In his pursuit of more, he has failed to love.
Sadly, my friends, I dare say that this same issue is a problem in our world, our nation, and yes, even our church. The world’s philosophy has always been summed up in a four-letter word: more. God also uses a four-letter word to describe his world, but that word is love. In our culture, “more” has replaced “love,” and has become, as Laurence Shames put it, America’s “unofficial national motto.” We want more of everything: more fun, more money, more excitement, more love, more programs, more church members, more, more, more. But, the philosophy, “more is better,” is the motto of addictive behavior:
For hoarders: more “stuff” is better, no matter what that stuff might be.
For alcoholics: more drinks are better, no matter how many they’ve already had.
For drug addicts: one more snort, or smoke, or shot is better.
For anorexics: one more lost pound, even one more lost ounce, is better.
For gluttons: one more bucket of chicken and one more large pizza is better.
For those whose addiction is money: there is no such thing as “rich enough.”
For those whose addiction is power: there is no such thing as “enough power.”
More is what Americans are used to, what we perceive as normal, what we strive for in order to feel successful. And, as we live as the rich man in today’s parable, the chasm between rich and poor becomes wider. Deep within us, we know this is not right. But when we look under the microscope and examine our lives, what do we see? Have we become poster children for today’s “ME” society? Have we traded in God’s values for the values of the world? Have we looked to that new car, that bigger house, and chosen comfort over care, things over people, more over love?
The time is not too late to change. Jesus tells the parable as a warning for people of every generation so that we can begin to understand that the blessings of life that flow to you and me are not meant just to flow to us, but through us, for the good of others around us, especially to those in need. Drowsy, uncaring, living, can put us to sleep – permanently – as we separate ourselves from God, by digging a chasm so wide that it cannot be bridged even by the love of God.
Jesus doesn’t want this to happen. Jesus came into our world to save, not to condemn. So, Jesus warns us, through his parable, not to squander the time and blessings that God has given us by adopting the more philosophy. Instead, open your eyes to the suffering around you and don’t hoard the blessings – live in love, share and be free. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.