I’m looking at the Gospel lesson (Luke 16:19-31) in the lectionary for this coming Sunday (September 30, 2007). That is designated as Lectionary 26 C.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He 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.’ 25 But 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. 26 Besides 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.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– 28 for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He 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.'”
Just to get it out of the way, there are some really troubling pieces to this text.
- Those in heaven (the bosom of Abraham) cannot help those across the “great chasm” even if they wanted to. How awful! Showing compassion in the afterlife is not permitted if it is directed to those who are being eternally punished? Does that make suffering in paradise?
- Why even try to “evangelize” since if they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t even be convinced by Jesus rising from the dead!
- The cosmology of this passage is interesting. The place of honor is with Abraham. God is not mentioned.
There are very familiar places to go with this text. That is faithful, but it is often not very interesting. People tend to shut down when they hear a sermon and have figured out where it is going.
Right now, I’m captivated by the reality that the only named character in the story is Lazarus (not to be confused with the guy Jesus raised from the dead … Mary and Martha’s brother). The rich man does not get named, although sometimes he picks up the name Dives from the Latin for “rich man”. It is all the more surprising when we realize that some of the more common panhandlers, street people, or beggars we see, we give descriptions to, but do not know their names. When we learn their names, it often changes how we see them. Our hosting of the “Winter Relief” shelter in November allows us to get to know some of the local homeless people by name and it changes how we experience them. It did not do that for the rich man.
I’ll want to dig more deeply into the text and its context to see if there really is something in this section of Luke that invites us to see one another as brothers and sisters. Is that part of what is going on? Is there more about the significance of the name?
That’s where I’m starting. (AN UPDATE CAN BE FOUND HERE)