Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rags and Riches: Parable of Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31 "Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. It happened that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom...
Undoubtedly this parable from scripture is one that can make us uncomfortable as it shows us images we may not necessarily want to see. Yet these words of Jesus challenge us to live the life of faith much more aware…

Aware of missed connections.

The main characters in the parable a rich man who feasted sumptuously and dressed in fine linen, and Lazarus, a poor man, covered in sores who longed to eat from the table scraps left by his neighbor, never seem to connect in any way. They certainly must have seen each other as one stayed at the other’s doorstep, but no connection is ever implied in the story. As it unfolds it seems like a wide chasm separated the two or they lived in two different worlds.

Sometimes our society can seem that way! The have and the have not’s of our planet, where millions are wasted by some, others live on less that $5 a day yet they never seem to connect. The connections we often miss with people we pass in the street, those we work with, those we attend church with, those we live with. In a culture where “hooking up” has become a term for casual coupling yet no long term connection, and the web allows us to have virtual friends, where interaction and connection are distorted, this parable speaks to us about something that was missed. These people were so close yet their paths never really seemed to cross; connections were missed.

Aware of missed opportunities

We are not really told about the religious life of the rich man, yet for the society of that day, he must have had some religious practice. He surely went tio the temple and observed the required obligations of his religion but seems to have missed out on an opportunity at his doorstep.” He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord….”, “Almsgiving is remedy for sin”.

The story of the good Samaritan gives us a similar example. Even as they rushed to perform whatever religious or official duties they had, the priest and levite failed to help a stranger on the road, an opportunity for holiness and religious observance. A rich young ruler misses the opportunity to follow Christ, distracted by his possession and others do not make it to the wedding feast because they are occupied with friends, lands and obligations. Sometimes blessing, holiness, service, stare at us right in the face, yet we are too occupied to see it. We miss Christ in the face of the poor, the stranger, the child , the confused teen, our coworker or partner in need, even as the rich man in this story passed Lazarus by every day yet missed the opportunity his presence afforded him to be a blessing, to practice his religion, to grow in love of God and neigbour.

Aware of Misperceptions

There is a lot to think about human perception as we consider this parable. First, Lazarus own thoughts as he draws near to the rich man’s house. I wonder if he chose that one because it looked impressive, bespoke of wealth and it seemed to be the most likely place where he would find help in time of need. That did not turn out to be the case. Then, of course, is our perception of prosperity and blessing. In a religious culture where wealth was looked as favor from the Lord. The contrast between Lazarus and his rich neighbor would have been stark and perhaps we would have seen one as blessed the other cursed! For others the justice of God and his goodness would have been in question. After all what kind of a God would not correct such unfairness in life where one feasts while the other starves?

The parable takes us then beyond what the eyes could have seen, the riches of the rich, the poverty of Lazarus, the death of each… to the world beyond. There our misperceptions become apparent. God’s love, justice, his sense of fairness does not end with human life, choices have consequences, sorrows have consolation and in the writings of the prophets are words of wisdom that can lead us to life.

May the Holy Spirit help us lead lives that are aware of the blessings and opportunities life gives to us….

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