25 Sep 2016
“‘[Abraham] 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.”’” (Luke 16:31) In the name …
Well today is September 25th, which means that it’s only 3 months until Christmas. We all know what that means. Christmas decorations and Christmas sales are just around the corner. Halloween candy has been out in stores since the hottest days of summer. I have no idea of who buys their Halloween candy in August or why. But before the Halloween decorations are even off the shelves, here comes Christmas. I can’t speak for anyone else, but by the time Feliz Navidad is around for the 70th day, I can barely stand it. I still love my Bethlehem Christmas, but one more Feliz Navidad chorus and by the middle of December I’m going crazy. Too much and unnecessary preparation can actually diminish the excitement of what we’re preparing for. It can backfire, in other words.
Now let’s transition to this morning’s Gospel. The Rich Man and Lazarus is another one of Jesus’ parables. It is no more based on fact than would be the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son. The purpose of parables is to teach. The Good Samaritan teaches about brotherly love. The Prodigal Son teaches about a loving God. Those lessons are real even if the events are not. Last Sunday I told you the story of God’s email to the 5% of people who were still good and faithful on earth. The purpose of the story was to reinforce the message that the good and faithful have always been earth’s minority, that there have always been a lot of people around who have no conscience and who would steal the last coin out of a blind man’s cup. That the story was made-up has no effect on the purpose of the story.
Jesus was an expert story-teller. Some Bible scholars argue that no other Bible author dares to use parables in their writings because parables belonged to Jesus. It was a distinctive way in which He spoke and taught. And today’s selection about the rich man and Lazarus is a beautiful example of Jesus’ story-telling. The rich man and Lazarus does not reveal to us some hidden mystery about the after-life. The imagery of being held and comforted in the bosom of Abraham, the torment of flames that do not consume, and the unpassable chasm between heaven and hell, these don’t have to be any more real than last Sunday’s dishonest steward who told his master’s debtors to quickly change and lower their bills.
The Rich Man and Lazarus uses the imagery of heaven not to teach us about heaven, but about us in the here and now. Heaven is real and I’m sure it’s wonderful, but Jesus leaves heaven for heaven. When we get there, we’ll find out then what heaven is like. I’m sure it’s greater than our fondest imaginations. But Jesus isn’t going to turn heaven into a Feliz Navidad kind of Christmas. Jesus’ message doesn’t concentrate on the after-life for our whole life so that talk of heaven becomes dull and ordinary. Jesus’ word concentrates on this life. And that’s where we have to go looking for the meaning and purpose of today’s parable. We don’t need to become preoccupied with heaven to the point that this life becomes something merely to be endured until heaven.
Jesus’ story begins with a picture of a terrible disparity of wealth, but that’s only the backdrop for a picture of an even more terrible disregard for the plight of others. When you heard Jesus’ story, you may have thought to yourself, “How can anyone enjoy heaven if you have to see other people being tortured in hell?” I don’t think watching other people in flames is in too many people’s picture of paradise. But Jesus does this on purpose. It highlights the complete disregard of the rich man when Lazarus lay at his gate in hunger and pain, and the rich man could not have cared any less. It’s not a story about heaven. If it were, Lazarus would be of the same temperament as the rich man, completely unconcerned, and then completely unworthy of heaven. It’s a story about this life and the consequences of being so self-absorbed that those in need of our help become invisible to us.
And it’s also a story about a blindness to God. The rich man is not without some redeeming characteristics. He worries about his family and he tries to warn them before it’s too late like it is for him. He begs that Lazarus be sent back to earth to warn them. This is where the parable ties-in with the association of Lazarus as the one Jesus raised from the dead. Abraham answers, “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” This is the ironic twinge of the parable. Moses, the prophets, even Lazarus back from the dead, and later even Jesus resurrected from the dead, are all testimonies that life is more than this world, and that if we’re really excited about the thought of heaven, then we have all the reminders we need to live this life as being someday worthy of heaven. We don’t need more reminders; we need more conviction.
And according to Jesus’ parable today, a lot of that heavenly worthiness has to do with our concern for each other. The rich man’s blindness to Lazarus was an offense not only against the man, but against God. Think about this as we approach the CROP Hunger Walk. This is not only a charity; this is righteousness. Think about the story of our church’s fraternal. It was organized to help the people of our church in real and tangible ways. The church cares for the soul, but we have not ignored that we are called upon to care for each other too, hence our fraternal. Let us pray for those who are blind to the plight of others that they may see, and let us also pray that we may count both our presence here and whatever we do for our neighbours as part of our worship. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo