1 – I’ve talked recently about how Jesus loved sometimes to tell us scary stories / spooky parables. There is something in those stories, like the one we’ve just heard about the rich man and Lazarus, that feels fascinating and gives us goosebumps in the same time. And I think the story is scary not just b/c it’s a good story….For me, it’s scary because it touches something very real, very much present in our faith – in our liturgy – something we mention every Sunday in our confession of sins, when we ask for forgiveness for those things that we have done…and those that we have “left undone”.
It’s not that it is “easy” for me to ask for forgiveness for the (bad/wrong) things that I have done – but at least I may be able to see them. But what about the right / good things I have left undone? The part of the story Jesus tells today that truly gives me goosebumps is the surprise of the man when he lands in Hades – Not understanding why he endures torments, not realizing what it is that he has done wrong…Actually, nothing.
The man has done nothing, and that’s the problem. Abraham explains it to him: He has done nothing to help his neighbor Lazarus. But even as he receives the explanation, you’ll notice that the man still does not get it, he wants to send off Lazarus to serve him (get him some water / warn his family). The man still feels entitled, remains unrepentant, unable to see Lazarus for who he is – a person with his own will, dignity, a person he ought to acknowledge and respect.
The world is so full of people “who have done nothing wrong”, like you and me. Oh, we may occasionally acknowledge a few mistakes, or even sometimes obsess over a few big ones – but hearing this parable makes me suspect that our acknowledged sins might be only the top of the iceberg. The real sin seems to be hidden: it’s all the things we have left undone – how we have failed to change our selfish lives, failed to see our neighbors and serve those in need.
The Gospel we’ve just heard is scary b/c it talks of these sins that are buried under the surface: The sin of indifference, lack of concern, inability to have pity. Not seeing and not wanting to know.
And this week, the parable of the rich man letting his neighbor die at his gate really hit home for me when I heard the young activist Greta Thunberg at the UN asking the powerful of this world to have a look at her and at her generation and begging them, as a journalist put it, “to not let her die, to not let the animals die, to not let the Earth die”. This is what she said: “How dare you?” “We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth”.
How dare you go and do business as usual, pretending nothing is happening?I think this is also what Jesus is asking today. Lazarus is dying of hunger, thirst, loneliness and the rich man ignores him – pretending nothing is happening, or maybe thinking there is nothing he can do. Not that he (actively) wants Lazarus to die or to be poor, but he probably does not see it as a consequence of his selfishness, he does not think it is his role to make things better, maybe he thinks he is blessed by God for his wealth and that’s the way God wants things to be.
The rich man cannot see the suffering around him and the suffering in which he participates, in the same way that we may not be able to see the suffering around us / suffering in which we participate b/c of our selfishness, lack of concern, indifference. And this is quite terrifying.
The story is not scary b/c it says that people like the rich man go to hell. The parable is probably not about hell anyway. Jesus mentions Hades / place of purification. The rich man talks with Abraham who calls him “his son”, the man is not in the company of the demons. What is truly scary is the inability of the man to face reality, and Hades is this place where he has to come to his senses. The rich man lived all his life in a fantasy world where he wore fine clothes / had plenty of friends over to diner but for him Lazarus was part of the décor / not an actual human being with thoughts, feelings, he could not feel his pain…Even his dogs showed more compassion to him! Failing to see people as alter ego with thoughts, feelings and ability to suffer can be a symptom of serious mental illness, but it can be also a spiritual illness. And so the man needs to spend time in “purgatory” / in treatment / rehab of the heart – He learns to see reality. To me, it relates to what Greta Thunberg says when she tells the powerful that they live “in a fairy tale”. They need to wake up from their fantasies and learn to face reality.
2 – Jesus tells a story: not so much about how life looks like after death than how life looks like in the KOG, in reality. Life is about relationships, having mercy = ability to relate to others, especially in their vulnerability. Ability to love. This is what our Epistle today is all about. Paul says to Timothy to take “hold of the life that is really life”. Paul acknowledges that we need food and clothing but greed is also destroying us / makes us lose our ability to share and to be in relationships. In the parable today, we see that the man is not not judged b/c he is rich, but he condemns himself b/c of the way he treats powerless people. He can’t relate to Lazarus / show mercy or simply share his table (economic and religious symbol).
In these times of “Global suffering”(People and all living creatures), how many of us also choose to remain blind / ignorant? But this is the ultimate sin Jesus accuses his hearers about: There can’t be salvation for them b/c they don’t listen to Moses, the prophets and even to the one who will raise from the dead.
We will answer: We can’t do nothing but remain blind / ignorant b/c it’s so overwhelming. Well, yes and no. To this argument, in my mind, the parable brings hope and answers: Start with the one at the gate. Start with the easy things you can do. If the rich man had opened his heart to Lazarus, it may have led him to open his heart to the whole city, to God and changed him completly. Countless stories about people meeting this one person who opened their eyes to reality and it changed their lives. It is said (in Greek) that Lazarus had been “throw out” at the gate/ We are invited to believe that people aren’t just there is our lives / there for a reason, to teach us something.
Yes, this Gospel is quite terrifying and ask us to stop living in a fantasy but it’s not only b/c the fantasy isn’t real after all. The fantasy does not end well. It is a loveless / hopeless story. But we are also invited to believe that there is a better life for us if we live the real life.
3 -This parable tells us that the truth of the world / this life isn’t as we see it. But it’s also for the best b/c things change and power shifts. The parable does not tells us so much about the afterlife than about what’s everlasting. Power rooted in violence and coercion depends on circumstances / love and justice endure for ever. Comfort comes for Lazarus / but knowing what we know, it should also encourage us to act in this life.
Lazarus: Not meant to be an example. We are certainly not encouraged to act like the rich man, but we aren’t encouraged to be like Lazarus either. He is a very passive character. That can happen (addiction, depression, loneliness) where we can do nothing but sit and wait, but maybe Lazarus needs also to see life as it is, that God is truly on his side, that the power and riches of the man are an illusion / maybe he would find the strength / faith to act. All of us can be trapped in hopeless situations / waiting after people who have nothing to share / nothing to give.
But if we have hope…we need to act. Very real character today is Jeremiah in rags / thrown in a cistern because the king wants to live his fantasy and not hear about the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah sees life as it is, he sees the devastation. And yet has hope. Buys this field in Jerusalem to show that the exile won’t be forever b/c God hasn’t forsaken his people.
We find hope not in blind optimism, denial, in fantasies, but when we know what life is really about: the extend of sin / violence / selfishness and devastation / but we find faith in the one who rose from the dead: Believing in a redemptive God willing to work with us so we may change and change the world with us. Amen.