Sunday Morning Harangue

Luke 16:19-31 The Rich Man & Lazarus

A green-thumb I am not, but my attention has been drawn to what will be familiar to some of you gardeners – leaf miners! A few clicks of the mouse button led me to discover that leaf miners are insect larvae that live within leaf tissue. They feed within the tissues of the leaves themselves forming tunnels that reveal their presence and activity.
Why this sudden and uncharacteristic interest in leaf miners?
It was this quote from Annie Dillard:

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of

leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here.

This, I mused, is what Luke’s gospel is trying to tell us in its presentation of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

It’s a fascinating story that raises a number of questions when we hear it for the first time.
Who is Lazarus? Why is he named and the rich man not? What was the rich man’s fault – after all he provided the means for Lazarus to survive by embracing his society’s “trickle-down” economy, did he not? Perhaps, like the leaf miner, the rich man was not able to lift his eyes to recognise or even relate to Lazarus. Yet he recognises him in the afterlife. But it’s too late – the horse has bolted. Then there is the rich man’s last ditch plea from Hades (which is not what is commonly understood as hell, by the way – it is the place of non-being, a shadowy space of non-existence in the Greek underworld) – send Lazarus back to warn my brothers.
Abraham replied,

‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He 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.’

I am pondering this morning whether the front door into this story is from the end rather than the beginning. ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Annie Dillard challenges us to rise above the leaf miner like preoccupation with the faint tracings of our lives to take in a wider view in order to really see what is going on around us.
Most often, like the one who lives well behind closed gates, we are not aware of Lazarus eking out his existence at our door. Lazarus is aware of us, he knows that it is our gate where he has taken up his post. He knows where the crumbs upon which he subsists come from. But do we know Lazarus, are we even aware of him? This is what the parable asks.

Do we know the names of the five Zimbabwe orphans we sponsor? At least in the afterlife the rich man was able to call Lazarus by name.
Steve was spitting chips he could not be here this morning – this is his favourite parable – he suggests that this is one of those stories that carries the whole meaning of the gospel.
I invited him to send some thoughts. Here are some of them.
Lazarus, as a poor/destitute man is, I think in Luke, already part of the kingdom, remains in the kingdom in the afterlife. The rich man who is outside, despite being part of the ‘chosen’ (chosen in a religious sense but also in a social ‘sense’ ie rich, powerful) in life remains outside because he doesn’t do what is required according to Moses and the Prophets – i.e. justice, mercy, compassion.
There is a fair amount to be made I think of the status of the resurrection – put simply the resurrection (whatever that is – I think this ties in to Luke’s post-resurrection events, particularly the Emmaus story –recognising the stranger/hospitality etc seeing Jesus in others) is meaningless without the faith/works to back it up. For anyone who doesn’t follow the path of justice, compassion and mercy, there was no resurrection (of Jesus) and will be no resurrection of us.

Steve touches on the kernel of what the whole early Christian community struggled with. What are the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for how we live together and in the context of a society that promotes and lauds self-centredness?

Alan Culpepper, in his commentary on Luke’s gospel, also draws attention to the Emmaus connection. This story is at the end of the gospel section of Luke’s documentary, acting as a kind of bridge into Acts, the story of the first Christian communities seeking to live the resurrection life.

Here are two travelling companions reflecting on how their hearts were strangely warmed when the Scriptures were interpreted to them. They are walking on the road to Emmaus. A stranger joins them and begins to explain the law and the prophets. The two insist that the stranger share their table with them. Then, as they break bread together, they recognise the risen Jesus in the stranger.
Can it be so simple?
Imagine the rich man venturing down to his gate and striking up a conversation with Lazarus. Imagine he rich man reaching out his hand to Lazarus and raising him up. Imagine him leading him inside his villa. He takes Lazarus into a room where he fills a basin and bathes his sores. He takes a towel and gently dabs them dry. From his apothecary he takes some soothing ointment and applies them to his wounds. Then together they sit at table. The rich man invites Lazarus to break the bread – and then – at that very moment – the risen Lord is revealed!
In embracing the heart of the Law and the prophets the rich man renders himself accessible to resurrection insight!
This is what resurrection looks like in Luke. It is only when the heart that is attuned to the Law and the Prophets and the call to live the life of shalom that the resurrection takes on its full meaning and gives expression to its true purpose – the Kingdom of God at large in our midst!

This, Luke’s story suggests, is the only way to fill in the chasm that separates the kin of the rich from the kin of Lazarus.

Sarah Dylan points out that “whenever we create or maintain an unbridgeable chasm between people, we automatically are on the wrong side of it.”

So we engage with and throw ourselves at the task of preparing the way of the Lord by buiding bridges across human made chasms.

And in case you think this is overly radical and out of keeping with the message of the Bible and that the gospel supersedes the law and the prophets anyway, let’s hear again Paul’s advice to Timothy:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Published by wonderingpilgrim

Not really retired but reshaped and reshaping. Now a pilgrim at large ready to engage with what each day brings.

2 thoughts on “Sunday Morning Harangue

  1. I liked the way you brought Emmaus into the story. It was a very interesting way of turning the rich man’s story around.

    I think I would question whether Lazarus actually receives the crumbs from the table as Annie Dillard implies (or as you interpret what she implies? 🙂 ). It says in Luke that Lazarus longed for the crumbs. I think this has profound implications for our own government and those of other western developed nations, in that the poor in our world would be more than happy with the leftovers from our excess, and yet as a nation, and as part of the wider developed world, we give very little from our excess, let-alone give to an extent which challenges our commitment. The old ‘give up 1% of the defense budget for a year and solve the world’s food shortage for a long time’ (or something like that) comes to mind.


  2. Hmmm…That’s not Annie Dillard’s take – it’s me getting carried away and exercising preacher’s privilege to use hyperbole to make a point! Yours is more accurate however and offers a more salient observation. Will we ever begin to even approach the millennial project targets, I wonder?


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