“…Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place…” (Luke 16:25-26a)
The account from St. Luke’s Gospel, “The Rich man and Lazarus,” is the story, told by Jesus, of two men, one a nameless man, rich, self-satisfied, who lived in comfort. He was a man who ate well, lived well, and wanted for nothing. The other man was named Lazarus, a poor man, who lived outside the gate to the rich man’s house. The equivalent perhaps, of what today we might refer to as a “street person.” Laying in his own filth, with open sores, sick, hungry, crying out to be noticed, to be helped. Left with only the dogs to lick his open wounds, and no one else to care for him.
Many people assume that because Lazarus is poor, and had bad things happen to him, Lazarus inherited in the hereafter a heavenly existence.
I believe that Jesus is turning an understanding of the day on its ear… It was believed by many of “God’s Chosen”, at the time Jesus is teaching this story, that if one pleased God, lived according to the prevailing religious law, you would be rewarded with a good and comfortable life. While if your life was a miserable, poverty stricken, sickness filled, existence, God was punishing you, for not living into the law, or being lazy, having bad parents, or being a “good for nothing person.” Sadly, these beliefs seem the obvious precursors to understandings held by some Christians today.
Yet, Jesus is pointing out that the rich man was living only for himself, and did not care about anyone else, even notice them. This is a story not so much against wealth, but its misuse, of blindness caused by pride, and a spirit of self-serving — a gluttonous existence.
To protect himself from seeing the needs of others, their pain and suffering, their human condition, the rich man created a protective distance around himself, a “chasm” so to speak. A chasm so great he would not have to hear the words of the prophets, teachers, or preachers, who would call him to open his heart, literally, to his neighbor. He would not have listened to or followed Jesus, who would be resurrected from the place they would have shared for a time in death. He was distanced even from God. The rich man lived with the chasm he created in life, and chose to make it his grave in death, his self-imposed punishment.
For us, as we reflect on this story, we should understand wealth in terms of more than just creature comforts, but all the things that we may have that other’s might lack - spiritually, mentally, and/or physically. We are called to be with each other in our need, acknowledge one another, grow wealthy in the things of God together. We are called to offer grace to the glory of God, and in turn receive grace.This is an imperative.
We are called to listen to the one who returned from the grave, and remove the barriers we have erected between ourselves and others. To serve others, and not just self-serve ourselves, our appetites and desires…
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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