Luke 16:19-31

July 19, 2015 by Ken Dale

Well that?s a disturbing parable!? There is so much in that story of the rich man and Lazarus.? It is interesting that evidently the rich man never saw Lazarus until he was in Hades and looked up to see Lazarus side by side with Abraham.? And how haunting are the words that come from Abraham?s lips when he said to the rich man, ?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.?? Abraham then refers to a great chasm fixed between them so that they cannot pass to one another.? But it seems there was always a great chasm between them when the rich man feasted sumptuously every day while sore covered Lazarus stayed at the gate longing to satisfy himself with the crumbs from the rich man?s table.? Both were alienated.

The film The Crossing Guard, tells the story of two men.? One is a father who lost his young daughter in a drunk driver accident.? His life is obsessed with revenge and retaliation.? The other man is the drunk driver responsible for the little girl?s death.? His life is filled with regret and he lives unforgiven for what he has done.? The father has marked on his calendar the day the other man will be released from prison.? Every breath and activity of the father goes into planning the murder-revenge after the man is released.? Marking the days is like a sacred ritual for him and the rest of his depraved life is empty.? He has only one purpose and that is revenge and that accomplished by killing.? In the film there is a scene when the father first encounters the other man.? He pulls the trigger on the gun but there are no bullets and he vows to return in three days to kill him.? But they talk before he goes.? The other man tells of his hell, and says, ?I did not seek your forgiveness because I did not feel I deserve it.?? A part of him believes that he deserves to die.

Both of these individuals are living in their own hells.? One cannot forgive and the other cannot be forgiven.? The father has lost his wife and his connection to his inner life and the other has lost his freedom ? freedom by being in prison, but also freedom by being imprisoned by his own torturing guilt and judgment.? The film is about how each journeys through the thickets of alienation to some degree of reconciliation.? There is life on the surface and there is life down deeper.? It is touching that in the end of the film they have a connection as human beings ? a connection with each other.

Lazarus is living in hell.? Yet the rich man, who on the surface has it all, is also living in hell.? As the story continues we are confronted once again by the Gospel with reversals.

Do we wonder about the vision of the rich man?? He could not or would not see Lazarus at the gate.? Yet he does see Lazarus, after he dies, even across the great chasm fixed between them.? It is not until after death that the rich man seems to have any human or humane connection with Lazarus.? I think it has much to do with the rich man?s vision, and his choice of what he sees and what he doesn?t see.? I think it has to do with the rich man?s hearing, and his choice of what he hears and what he doesn?t hear.? One of the off-handed phrases used by Jesus and his scriptures is ?those who have ears to hear, let them hear, and those who eyes to see, let them see.?

A major theme in Luke?s gospel is the importance of the poor in the reign of God.? Earlier in this same chapter there is concern with the lace of wealth and possessions in our living.? The story of the rich man and the slave who cheated him in the first 13 verses of Luke 16 ends with a direct statement about serving two masters, ?you cannot serve God and wealth.?

Lessons from ?rich and poor? run throughout the Bible. ?I think it a misuse of Scripture if we were to take the story before us today of the rich man and Lazarus and say that its point is to demonize the life of wealth and glorify the life of poverty.? Surely we are aware of examples of the spiritual void of riches and the character of strength of poverty.? We know the reverse is also true. ?But certainly we are challenged by the story in terms of stewardship of our resources and the importance of reaching out and doing what we can to improve the quality of life for others.

This parable speaks to us at many levels.? As individuals we need to hear those words, which speak in such a way that, our alienation is addressed.? The rich man and Lazarus, the father and the drunk driver who killed his daughter.? Both lived in their private hells even though things may have appeared different on the surface.? All came up short in fullness of life and denied themselves true freedom ? one would find it in forgiving and the other in allowing himself to be forgiven.

What is the calling we hear when we read of the great reversal as the rich man looks up from Hades to see Lazarus comforted by Father Abraham?

Do we catch the hope and the promise as we hear Abraham speak to the rich man who is concerned for his brothers?? ?They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.?? Where do we alienate ourselves and from what and whom?? Are we willing to listen to our sacred writings and wrestle with them when they confront us?? Are we willing to pray them?? Are we open to the new life to which they may lead us?

Moses and the prophets ? we have them, and we have a Risen Christ who is ever present with us ? still speaking!? That rich man?s request in the parable was for someone who would come back from the dead ? well ? we got him!? There is the promise of eternal life ? and it may be a reversal, but it is by God?s grace.? To what do we hear God calling us?

When that father got beyond the obsession for revenge and retaliation he discovered new life.? Margaret Hess tells of one her favorite brief therapy techniques ? one that many of us could use in our personal lives ? or collectively in some wider setting.? It?s called the miracle question ? and this is how it works:

You invite the person to imagine that a miracle has taken place in regard to a problem they have identified.? As they begin to describe how they know a miracle has happened, they begin to imagine their life without the problem.? The next step is to begin to live as if the miracle has taken place.? Soon, the individual begins to act in new ways, becoming more proactive as they imagine a different future.? As they change their images, their behavior also changes.

??????????? What miracle might we imagine to have taken place and in regard to what problem?? How would we describe how we know that miracle has happened?? What is life like without that problem?? What does that new life look like ? and how will our behavior change to make it happen?

Truth is captured in a hymn we sing ? Be Thou my vision O God of my heart.? Nothing surpasses the love you impart.? You my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, your presence my light?Riches I need not nor life?s empty praise.? You my inheritance now and always.? You and you only are first in my heart.? Great God my treasure may we never part!???? ????