You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 21, Year C by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.
This week’s lesson is again money or love-of-money related. There are a lot of things Christians like to harp on about related to morality, but Jesus talked about money more than a lot of those things. The only thing he talked about more was the Kingdom of God. And he wasn’t talking about how we should all be making more of it and enjoying the good life, but more about how we should be sharing and taking care of the poor. I think we probably all know that, but there are some people out there that seem to teach the opposite.
Here’s the basic story. There’s a really rich guy who lived in luxury and had a fine time of it. At his gate there is a beggar named Lazarus. (I just love how Jesus doesn’t bother giving the rich man a name but he names the poor man—how like him to humanize the weaker, needier person and just describe the other as a rich man—not what everyone would have done.) Lazarus is so poor that he wishes he could just eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table (the implication is that the rich man didn’t even share these) and he was so bad off that he was covered in sores and the dogs licked his sores. It’s descriptive and horrific.
Then both men die and Lazarus is carried by angels to Abraham’s side (Abraham is considered the forefather to all the Jewish people and Jesus is talking to his Jewish audience–I think we can safely call it heaven) and the rich man goes to Hades (hell). Now the roles are switched. Lazarus is happy and comforted in heaven but the rich man is in agony. Now he is looking up and wishing he could just have a tiny piece of what Lazarus has. So he calls out to Abraham and asks him to send Lazarus to him with just a drop of water to soothe his agony. Abraham responds that it’s impossible to do so. So the (former) rich man asks that Abraham send Lazarus to his family to warn them to change their ways. Abraham says they have Moses and the Prophets (the Jewish scriptures) so they don’t need further warning. The man says they will repent if someone dead comes to them. And Abraham responds that even if someone rises from the dead, they will not be convinced.
I think it’s important to not get bogged down in the eschatology here. (Eschatology: the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.) From what I understand, that is not really the point of the story. Jesus didn’t say, “Look here’s what happens when you die” and go on to describe heaven and hell. The story is more about the two men, poor and rich, and how the rich man ignored the poverty at his own gate. A lot of the Bible studies I’ve read in preparation have talked about this issue and how Lazarus was invisible to the man until he was himself in agony and had to look up and see Lazarus finally happy. Who might be invisible to us? Have we ever felt invisible to others when we were in need? I know there have been times my own kids probably felt invisible to me when I was caught up doing something (you know how they start repeating “Mommy mommy mommy” over and over because they seem to think you don’t hear them if they don’t repeat). Who might we pass by every day and not even see them–outcasts of society who are hurting and needing attention? What are we doing to help them and not hurt them further?