Click on the image to listen to the sermon
Today, Jesus introduces us to two men: Lazarus and a rich man. One is named and the other is nameless. One is economically poor and the other rich. One is rich in faith and the other not so much. One is covered in sores and the other in fine linen. One eats the leftovers that fall off the table that others have been eating on and the other has a full stomach. But both die, yet angels carry Lazarus away to be with Abraham and the rich man is buried and sent to Hades; a place filled with fire and torment.
Ultimately, Lazarus receives reprieve from his earthly suffering and is in the care of Abraham, it's a beautiful image of physical contact where he is wrapped in the arms of Abraham after suffering with sores that probably left him without physical contact. Despite being able to receive peace and contentment for the first time, Lazarus does not gloat or become haughty. The wealth of heaven does not change Lazarus’ character.
The rich man finds himself in a fiery torment and in desperate need of water; but he is denied water, he is denied joining Lazarus and Abraham, and he denied warning his family members to follow the Law of Moses so that they do not end up like him. Jesus gives us a distinct dichotomy between the lives that these two men lived and the afterlife they are given. So, is the rich man being punished just because he has the privilege of wealth? Is this parable really about being rich or poor?
Jesus lived during a time where prosperity was a true mark of faithfulness. Where the common idea was that the rich man is seen as the one who was blessed by God with wealth and prosperity, and the poor man must have done something wrong to be suffering. Therefore, the followers of Jesus would have viewed the rich man in a more favorable light-based on his economic standing compared to the good but poor man in the story. But as we read in the Gospel today, Jesus does not deem wealth as an indicator that someone will be given entrance into the kingdom of God. Wealth and prosperity are not markers for Jesus of faithfulness but of responsibility and accountability.
The saying much is given much is expected—but in the case of this rich man it is not so much about him giving Lazarus money or making him wealthy—it is about the rich man looking out at his gate, looking down on the floor and looking, up at Lazarus and seeing a man, a human being, a child of God. And the rich man fails at this over and over again. He never acknowledges Lazarus’ presence or cares for him on earth. But his dogs have more sense than he does. To ease the pain of his sores, they lick wounds but the man does nothing to aid Lazarus. It reminds me of a story in the news this past month about a house fire where a child was stuck inside and the dog laid on top of her to protect the child from the flames. The child survived because of that loving dog who unfortunately died. The dogs care for Lazarus in the same way, attempting to save him from his discomfort and the man does not notice.
In the afterlife the rich man also requests that not Abraham but Lazarus give him water. He makes Lazarus the servant despite being the one who is being punished. He also requests that Abraham not Lazarus warn his family about living faithful lives to not end up in Hades. He still sees Lazarus beneath him even though Lazarus is being rewarded with being with Abraham. He does not see him as an equal, a human being. He does not understand why he is there instead of Lazarus. How the wealth and privilege of his earthly life does not transfer to his afterlife. He is blinded by his focus on the differences that separate him from Lazarus, socially and economically instead of their similarities and what they share as people, God’s people. And the rich man, does not want to see the similarities between him and Lazarus because then that would mean having to admit that they are on equal footing and he would lose his authority. He would also have to face a part of himself that he might not want to acknowledge.
This parable is challenging (no matter what two men are experience suffering) because it forces us to think about the ways in which we can be the rich man (at times). The rich man is nameless because we could all be the rich man. My name could be there. I am challenged to think about what it is that I am blind to see in this world and about myself.What are we blind to see in our lives? What differences are we focusing on too much instead of our similarities? What is it that we don’t want to put into focus about ourselves?
I surprisingly feel for the rich man because how easy is for all of us to get caught up in the business and stress of our own lives. And when we do sometimes it's hard to relate or take the time to see what is going on around us. Along with our personal struggles we are living in a country where there are strong racial tensions, where there are divides between the public and law enforcement officers, where there are mass shootings in neighborhoods and shopping malls…where there is just so much sadness. It is difficult to process and make sense of the struggles we as a community are enduring, and it's hard to not look away from the TV screen or the newspaper when we see and hear so much sadness. There is so much to see in our lives sometimes.
So, it's not only that there are things in life that hard to focus on but most importantly it's the people that help us see. Like the rich man who had Lazarus, we have one another and we have Christ. We are here on this earth for one another--to love God and to love neighbor. Yale Muslim Chaplain, Omar Bajwa posted this week to “cherish the people who enlighten your path to God for they are His secret blessing to you.” Who is the Lazarus in your life? Who is opening your eyes to see your neighbor, to see yourself and to the world? Who is a reminder of God’s love in the world?
Back in July there was a story I saw posted of a homeless man who went up to a college student who was on her way to the bus stop and asked her for change. She was rummaging through her purse and told him she had some money but quickly realized that she could not find her bus pass. The homeless man realized what was going on and asked her how much the bus fare was that he had $4 and would happy to give it to her. She found her bus pass but was so overwhelmed by his generosity. For someone in need to not care about themselves to help out another. She said, “I asked if I could take a picture with him to tell everyone about the size of his heart.”
The man walked toward her and tried to make his appearance look nicer before they took the picture. She gave him $2 and wished him goodnight. As she walked away he yelled, “mention in the picture that my name is cesar.” Cesar, Lazaurus, our names, we can be the ones in the world with our eyes and hearts open--to see the beauty and needs of those around us and ourselves. Let us be Lazarus. Let us Cesar.
The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton