Not the Life to Come but the Life Right Now
Proper 21, Year C, RCL, Track 1
There are points in the liturgical year where the lessons seem to get stuck in a rut. At one point we have three or four weeks of bread. I am the bread of heaven. I am the bread of life and so on. Currently we are in a series of teaching on money and possessions. Three weeks ago Jesus said, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Last week we were told, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” And today we have a continuation of this topic with a wealthy man and Lazarus.
The story seems clear enough. A wealthy man eats sumptuously, while outside his house is Lazarus, a beggar, who sits there with dogs licking his wounds. It almost seems that the rich man doesn’t even know Lazarus exists, but we know better. I’d think many of us would know if a poor person was sitting outside the gate of our house day after day. Some of us might even get concerned enough and call the police to take care of the problem. But this is not what the rich man does. He doesn’t feed Lazarus. He doesn’t seem to even acknowledge his existence. The rich man just ignores him. Then at some point, both men die. Lazarus who still seems to be ignored by society is carried away by angels while the rich man received a respectable burial.
In the next life, we find the rich man tormented by heat and thirst and he calls out to Father Abraham, one of the great patriarchs, who has Lazarus at his side. And the rich man calls out to have Lazarus serve him. Even in death, this rich man sees Lazarus as a servant, someone who should do his bidding. Abraham, send Lazarus to bring water to cool my tongue, says the rich man. And I wonder, when I go to the next world, will my prejudices and world outlook remain the same? Will I treat people differently based on class or appearances as I do now?
In this parable, the two men have chosen where they end up and in this portrayal of the afterlife, the two realms cannot be crossed. The rich man soon understands that it is too late for him but not the rest of his family. And he calls out again to have Lazarus do his bidding. Abraham, send Lazarus to my brothers to teach them what is right. Abraham replies, we have already sent people to you, and your family; Moses and the prophets. They wouldn’t listen to them “neither would they be convinced even if someone rises for the dead.” I wonder if we can get so focused on our own lives to a point in which it becomes difficult to see the people on the periphery of our lives. The people who serve us in restaurants, hotels, the grocery store. The people we seen on the streets or on the corners asking for help.
All my life I have had an ability to focus on a task at hand; so intently that someone can come into the room and speak to me and I would not hear them. My mom would speak to me progressively louder and louder until finally, I heard her. My focus was so intense that I didn’t hear her at all until she was nearly screaming. I see this trait in my children as well but I have learned that instead of yelling all I have to do is touch them on the shoulder to break their attention. I wonder if this is similar to how we get focused within our own lives.
We may be like the rich man who is not outright mean or abusive; he just doesn’t see or doesn’t want to see those who could use help. Jesus gives us this parable as a cautionary tale so that we can be attentive to the needs of others; especially those who are not in our circle of friends.
We, like the rich man, have the prophets who came before us, but unlike the rich man, we have the Lord who has risen from the dead. Jesus has come back from the grave, much as the rich man has requested Lazarus. Jesus has come to us, to tell us himself, through these very words that we hear today. This is our hope that we may learn and model our lives on what Jesus tells us. That we have time to respond to his call and change this very day. Instead of yelling louder and louder, today Jesus comes and puts a loving hand on our shoulder, and tells us a parable; a parable that doesn’t need a lot of interpretation or decoding. This parable is clear to all who can hear.
Because we have a loving God, one who has given us free will, we have a choice; to continue looking the other way, ignoring the poor, the sick, the injustice in the world, or to respond with the same love that God offers us. A love that extends past our family, past our friends. A love that we offer to a person who we do not know or don’t want to know. This story is not about our death and what is to come. This story is about life and how we live right now.