A Homily for A Homily for 9.29.13
from Luke Luke 16:19-31,
the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
I would echo the words of the psalmist and ask,
“Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight”
I would also offer this reminder to self:
"Write hard and clear about what hurts"
-- Ernest Hemingway
I have never liked this story from the text. After 47 years it always evokes an ugly memory. I was only 15, a freshman in high school; we had just moved here from Germany, where I attended class on base.
I show up dressed as always, only what my clothes and mom labeled, husky-boy, in a white shirt, black dress pants, pocket protector always with 3 sharp pencils and 3 pens, carrying my own slide rule in a leather case on my belt…..you get the picture.
I was not prepared to attend High School in this new world. I kept my head down, took the occasional shove and cork in the arm and tried to remain invisible every morning in the physics room, playing chess with all the other nerds.
One morning heading to P.E. there was a kid -- back then we said he was retarded -- at the bottom of a stairwell picking up pennies that a group of tough football players had tossed down so they could watch and laugh as he picked them up. I walked over to see what was going on and then one of the thugs spit down on him, then all his buddies began spitting on him.
I looked down the stairwell, and to this day I still believe our eyes met….Well, one of the tough guys asked me, “What the hell are you looking at?” I mumbled nothing and walked away in fear. When I got to the safety of my fellow nerds, they asked me, “What was going on, who was that at the bottom of the stairwell being spit on?” I said,“There’s nothing going on; it was nobody.”
Another story before I hurry on to our message, this one heroic:
My Aunt Pearl introduced me to Jesus. One summer, oh how I loved to stay at her house, they were building a new house next door to her and I was told to stay away from the construction site. Well, Saturday morning you know the first place I headed.
I was tossing rocks into the newly dug basement when I heard a thump followed by a string of profanity. I didn’t know, but a construction worker was there that morning working overtime and the rock hit him on the head. Fortunately, he had a hard hat on, but none the less came flying up out of the hole with murder in his eyes.
I ran up on my Aunt’s front porch as she came flying out, screen door slamming behind her, apron on and boldly stepping in front of me. The worker screamed in her face, “Who’s kid is this?” And I can still hear her in her calm voice say, “He’s mine, what do you want.” He told her what happened as she reassured him that whatever he wanted, see a doctor, compensation, whatever, she would take care of it, she would be responsible.
Well no real harm was done. The man grumbled a little more and went back to work still glaring at me. I went to bed that night with no dinner. I learned however that she loved me no more if I were perfect, but no less even though I wasn’t.
Many times over the years when life chased me up on the porch because of some folly…well...my mental picture of Jesus is often that of a blue haired 90 lbs. elderly Aunt with an apron stepping out, screen door slamming behind, stepping between me and one of my transgressions.
But, I didn’t see that other kid from the first story like my Aunt Pearl saw me. For me, he didn’t exist. For me, there was this enormous chasm that existed between us, even though it was only maybe 20 yards away.
In Jesus’ story, of course, the chasm did become evident to the rich man when he found himself on the other side of it. With opened eyes he saw Lazarus as the child of Abraham, and so he saw the chasm of separation. But by then it was too late.
Let’s put the story of Dives and Lazarus in it’s context, if we want it’s full impact (dives is simply the Latin word for "rich.") When this parable was translated from Greek into Latin, this is the word that was used, and consequently this rich man has been called Dives ever since. That is all Jesus tells us about him is the way he dressed and the way he ate. He was dressed in purple and fine linen, which was the ultimate of extravagance in clothing in those days, and he also set a very fine gourmet table, not once a week but every day.
The only thing Jesus has to say about this rich man is characterized by the externals of life. The Pharisees were probably good men, trying to live clean lives, keeping the law, proud they’re God’s chosen people, but they had forgotten or lost a heart for the vocation God had given them.
The other man, Lazarus, is a direct contrast to this. Jesus tells us about a fellow named Lazarus. The name is significant; it means, "God is my helper." Surely this is deliberately intended by our Lord to suggest that Lazarus was a godly man. Even though poor and a beggar, God was his helper. This point was probably not lost with the Pharisees.
Before this story Jesus tells a story about a business manager who is accused of wasting his boss’s assets and is about to be fired. Well this manager knows that he is too weak to work and doesn‘t want to end up begging. Anyway Jesus is telling this story to a group of Pharisees and in the story the manager says,
“ I know what I am going to do, so that when the ax falls and I lose my job here, people will still welcome me into their houses.”
He wants to win a little gratitude from the master‘s debtors (Luke 16:4)
Well this rascal is about to get very creative. He calls in one of his master’s debtors who owes 1,000 bushels of wheat and says to him’“let’s just get your eraser out and change that debt to 800 bushels pal.” The manager did the same with two other debtors. Well you can guess that this guy has become very popular, he’s making all kinds of friends . This guy is lacking scruples, no doubt about that, but then after telling his story Jesus says to his audience:
“Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”
Do you remember the reaction of the Pharisees to his story of the dishonest steward, when Jesus emphasized and underscored the link between money and spirituality? Wow…Loving God and using money? Instead of the other way around??
Because of this teaching they ridiculed him, as we read in
“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they scoffed at him.” (Luke 16:14 RSV)
They openly mocked him. To answer that scoffing, Jesus tells them and us the story of the rich man and Lazarus, a story today that follows up on this need of repentance, a story that emphasizes that what we do does indeed matter.
In the parable we are looking at today we have an occasion where Jesus seems to draw aside the veil between this world and the next and allow us to see what is beyond; to see the intimate relationship between the here and the hereafter. How close they really are to each other.
This story is about two men with contrasting lifestyles. Dives, with a fine set of threads. The other, Lazarus, covered in sores. Dives feasted every day. Lazarus longed for the scraps from Dives table (much like the prodigal longed for food).
Not like the manager in the first story, Dives didn’t use his money to build a relationship with Lazarus. The dogs would lick his sores. That was the only comfort he had in the midst of his unhappy life. He was ignored totally by the rich man as he put the pedal to the metal and drove daily out the gate leaving a cloud of dust, but who never saw Lazarus lying there. So, when Dives died, Lazarus already having died, didn’t welcome the rich man into “eternal dwellings.”
Like Dives we are called to repent, to open our eyes? Are we also to be the new people returned from the exile of sin, with a new heart for our vocation to be salt and light to the world as God intended?
Who is at our gate? Who has God placed there? Neighbor? Relative? Stranger? Do I really see him or her? How can we see Lazarus?
We “Resurrection people” are called, maybe first of all, to always try too look at peoples hearts. To see in spite of outward appearances that they are treasures to God. They are lost lambs, or coins, or sons and daughters. It’s easy to see some soiled dove winging her way by and turn aside when she in fact is broken and just looking for some acceptance.
I think we should also try to see Lazarus in our own life, put ourselves in his shoes. Except for God’s grace we could be beggars; we could be Lazarus. The Psalmist says that we could even steal if we weren’t blessed with the health to work and our families were hungry. I’ve never been on welfare, but how much credit can I take for that? I’ve been given all kinds of good breaks, none of which I can take credit for. All said and done, I could have been Lazarus.
And especially if this needy man at the gate has never met Jesus.
I remember a friend from Uganda named Deli, with whom that I was a summer missionary. He recounted the time that Jesus found him. Suddenly, we realized he was weeping. God has been faithful so long, well, I can sometimes forget that I was once lost. This March 5, it will be 46 years since I met Jesus and was baptized. It is so easy. Peter says we can get to the place “we forget we have been cleansed from our past sins“(2 Peter 1:9)
If the Lazarus at our gate is lost, see him as yourself, lost!
I guess, as people with the vocation to be salt and light, we need to see Lazarus as if he were Jesus’ brother. Jesus said, “whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me.” (Matt 25:40)
Tony Compolo tells a story of Mother Teresa who once asked by a visiting bishop if he wanted to see Jesus. She found a man lying on a pallet with little bugs crawling all over his body. Holding the man like a baby in her arms she said, “Here’s Jesus. He said we’d find him in the least person on earth.“
Well, finally in eternity Dives sees Lazarus!
And now he needs him! Oh how things twist. Dives calls for Abraham to have Lazarus fetch him a cold one. Cause man it’s a hot one today!!!
Abraham said, “Seriously, you didn’t give Lazarus the time of day on earth….Ah .Nooooo! You can’t now in eternity.
“Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed.”
That chasm was there already a long time, even if it was only maybe 20 yards apart.
Then Dives said, well send him on back to earth to warn my five brothers. I guess he has some use for Lazarus now. Dives and Abraham argue about what might cause Dives’ brothers to repent. Surely they and we need to listen up.
But, even if Dives could have sent back a warning to his brothers to repent, they would not have heard God’s word, they wouldn’t repent even if someone came back from the dead. If the words from God’s prophets couldn’t convince them to open their hearts, neither would miracles! Unbelief and refusal to repent are never the result of lack of evidence but due to a stony heart.
They had their prophets and the law. We have even more. We have the Word in flesh, Jesus! N.T. Wright says,
“Jesus calls us to welcome sinners as he did; the call to live by a different set of goals and values- to repent this is what Israel and we also needed if exile were to end.”
“The welcome of Lazarus evokes the welcome of the prodigal by the father- the same was coming true in flesh and blood as Jesus welcomed outcasts….it’s a traditional story with a new ending, not just a statement on wealth and poverty, but what was happening to rich and poor in the present time. Jesus’ welcome of the poor and outcast was a sign that the real return from exile, the new age, the resurrection, was coming into being….those who wanted to belong to it would have to repent…..Jesus presents the urgent need that those who were at present grumbling to recognize this significance. The story takes for granted that the poor and outcast were rightly being welcomed into the kingdom, and it turns the spotlight on the rich, the Pharisees, the grumblers; they too, now needed to repent if they were to inherit the new day that would shortly dawn. The basic story he was telling invited his hearers to see themselves as the true Israel ( the ones whose vocation was to bring salt and light to the world), they were at last returning from exile, and turning back to their God as an essential part of the process.”
Finally I must ask myself …..what if I don’t see those around me or hear Jesus’ warning of all I am about to miss out on being part of the kingdom……..well……could I admit it? Is there a cure for me? Jesus thought so! That was a some desperate plan, that cross business, to rescue me…..to open the eyes of my heart. I hope that I now would return to where I began and say “There is something going on and he’s somebody.”
May God Bless His word.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”