[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” (NRSV)
Smartphones have been getting a lot of bad press lately…
Fans of the Apple’s iPhone are furious because the latest model will not include a headphone jack (to listen to music), forcing you to either use an adapter plug or buy their $159 wireless “Earpods.”
Now it’s no secret that these devices distract drivers, and wreak all kinds of havoc on human social interaction…
But that’s how they affect us.
What we do not think about are the deplorable working conditions and low pay suffered by those who mine for raw materials and manufacture these devices… People are literally dying over these things…
Yet these people are out of sight, out of mind—just like the man Lazarus, whom we encounter in Jesus’ parable…
It begins with someone literally dumping Lazarus at the gate of an unnamed rich man’s
estate and leaving him for dead. While the rich man dressed in the
finest clothes and lived lavishly every day, he was blissfully unaware that Lazarus was dying of starvation. Lazarus was so weak that he was unable to
shoo away the dogs who came to lick the sores that covered his body.
Eventually, both men die. Lazarus was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man went to hell.
He cries out to Abraham, to send Lazarus to show him the mercy that he failed to show Lazarus when they were both alive. He begs Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead so he can go and warn his five brothers, who (presumably) lived as he did. Each time, Abraham refuses.
I don’t know about you, but I’m more than a bit uncomfortable at this point. Every time I read this, I can’t help but think of all the panhandlers I’ve ever walked past and ignored. But bear in mind that this isn’t a parable about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell…
The highlight of this parable is God’s grace to Lazarus. He may have been invisible to the rich man, but he was never invisible to God. Incidentally, Lazarus’s name means “the one who God helps.”
So do not fall into the trap of questioning whether or not you’re doing enough for the poor and how that will impact you for eternity. This is a parable about what God is up to—right here, right now.
Jesus is revealing his gracious concern for every single person who suffers sickness, hunger, and death. Jesus is paying attention to the people whose names are not known; who have no voice, and no ability to help themselves. Jesus is paying attention to people who are suffering and dying of the blissful ignorance of those who have the means to show mercy, but simply do not.
The life we all are desperate for in this broken world is not found in the places of wealth, privilege, and power—where blissful ignorance runs amok. The TV preachers and bestselling “Christian” authors continue to perpetuate this false teaching that Christ’s love and prosperity go hand-in-hand.
So often, we look for Jesus inside our lives when we should be looking for him outside our lives. You can be the most devout Christian there is in terms of your prayer life, going to church, learning the Bible, and even giving offerings. But Jesus shall remain a stranger to you if are not present among the people who need him most—because they have nothing else, and no one else… This is where grace happens.
So think about at all the stuff you spend money on. If you’re like me, you spend a lot of money on things that you think will bring you joy, but they don’t.
What would your life be like if you were to give away even a tenth of the money and energy you spend on yourself? Like if you took a tenth of the money you spend on entertainment or eating out—and donate it to the food bank or ELCA World Hunger? What do you have that you could give away—and change someone’s life forever?
I know I bad-mouthed smartphones—but what if you simply paid more attention to the people around you—and talked to them? What if you took a tenth of your screen time and called up someone who’s hurting; fix them a meal, or send a card?
Looking out in this congregation, I know there’s people who love to travel like me. What if we took a missions trip together? Would you dare give away your precious vacation time?
Think about the people who serve you—have you thanked them? Do you know their names? Do you know what’s happening in their lives? What their dreams are?
Put it all together, the challenge and the opportunity here is to invest yourself into the economy of amazing grace. There aren’t haves and have-nots in God’s kingdom. People aren’t treated as disposable and tossed away to die. In God’s kingdom, we belong to each other—so that when you fall down, someone is there to lift you up. In God’s kingdom, lasting joy comes in giving your hands and your stuff so that everyone is sheltered, clothed, fed, and loved. In God’s kingdom, people are more important than possessions—and privilege is following Jesus as his disciples.