Jesus Through the Lens of the Rich, the Poor and the Lost
Sermon on 17th March 2022
The gospel reading is Luke 16:19-31 and can be found here.
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I don’t know if you have ever watched that cult classic, Withnail and I. I used to love that film as a university student about the adventures of two wannabe actors in the 1960s. I haven’t watched the film in years, but I have always remembered one line in it, when Richard E Grant’s character says ‘Free to those that can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t’. You see it’s a comment that in our society lots of things are given to those with lots of money while those without get nothing. At last years Oscars, the top celebrities, who of course are filthy rich already, were given goodie bags with gifts in worth upwards of £150,000 which included free holidays, various treats, free liposuction session and complimentary project management for their next mansion upgrade. Its bananas isn’t it, because of course these celebs can just get all this stuff anyway because they are among the super rich in the world.
last years Oscar Goodie Bag
In other ways the rich get away with it all as well, in ways that most common folk just couldn’t. One might think of Prince Andrew being able to avoid going to trial, or how Donald Trump, who is very clearly a criminal on a number of very obvious levels, is able to avoid tax and punishment. I will never forget watching a documentary on Monaco, a playground for the rich, when agents at a super yacht management company explained how they used they clients money to set up companies to manage everything around the yacht to protect their clients from liability if anything happened on board. One explained how a crewman had been killed in an accident, and without any thought for the crewman or their family, explained how pleased their client was to have avoided being liable for the costs.
Its frankly disgusting, isn’t it? It just doesn’t seem fair does it? There is seemingly no justice is there?
Our parable today, the only one in scripture that has a named character in it, deals with the idea of rich and poor, the well and the suffering and justice. It is quite a difficult parable. We hear about these two characters, the rich man and Lazarus. On the one hand we have the rich man, feasting each day and wearing purple and fine linen. On the other hand we have at the gate of the rich mans villa Lazarus, covered in sores, famished and the lowest of the low even the dogs lick his wounds. The word in the original Greek that speaks of Lazarus wanting to eat the left overs was one used to describe the feeding of animals not humans, so Lazarus is wishing that he could be treated like an animal, because they did better than him.
Of course one day they both die. Lazarus ends up feasting with Abraham whilst the rich man finds himself in hell.
What of course is fascinating is the conversation that goes on between Abraham and the rich man. First of course, the rich man pleads that Lazarus be sent to him to wet his tongue. Notice that even in hell, the rich man still feels he can order around who he thinks of as lower than himself. Abraham can’t help. For one thing, no one could reach him and for another, it is, in Abrahams eyes a fair punishment. Afterall he received blessings in life and did nothing to change the fate of Lazarus. Now simply their roles had been changed. So instead the rich man pleads again that Lazarus be sent to warn the rich mans family so they don’t end up in the same bother. Abraham explains that the brothers have Moses and prophets and even if someone was raised from the dead they wouldn’t believe.
What are we to take away from this parable? For me I think it changes based on who you associate with in the story. First of course, if we associate with the rich man, there is a clear warning of the danger of not loving our neighbour. This is repeated throughout scripture and it is again here. This parable shows there is a consequence for ignoring others, for thinking about number one only about valuing property over people. I know, just by the virtue of living in this country that I am rich. Who is outside the gates of hearts, wishing just to come in? When we associate with the rich man, it is worth doing so in humility and penitence, because we have all I am sure be ungenerous to another person at some time and if was for people that Jesus held so much worth that He willingly died on a cross. When we are like the rich man, repentance is key.
We may also associate with Lazarus. We may, quite rightly be in despair or hurt or anguish. We may, quite naturally be furious with God as we suffer. When we are Lazarus, this parable gives us heart to face it, because we know that God is a God of justice. Its so easy to make the mistake of seeing the rich and famous as the successful people of the world. Yet Jesus says no the opposite is so often true, it is harder for a rich person to gain heaven than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. The reality of the gospel message is said again and again and again, no it is the children to poor the blind to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. We will suffer at points in our life, but associating with Lazarus gives us hope of justice.
Finally, we may associate with the brothers. Here Jesus is making His main point and it is probably with the brothers that He wished most of His audience to associate. The brothers, comfortable in their presumed wealth or knowledge or whatever, feel they have no need to search for God, have no desire for truth and or for love. They are okay, not realising what they are walking into blindly. They have Moses and the prophets who point towards the need to love God and love one another. The irony that even if someone were to come back from the dead, even then they would not believe of course points to the future ressurection of Jesus. The plea of Jesus in the parable is simply what is always the plea, repent, for the Kingdom of God is near and love one another and God. Perhaps nothing speaks more to our fallen world than the reality that people find these two things so very difficult.
Of course, this parable ultimately asks us to examine our own hearts and to love everyone as best as we can. Who do we treat like Lazarus? Where do we turn when we are like Lazarus? Are we really listening the Moses, the prophets and Jesus? These no doubt are good Lenten questions to ask.