Sept. 25, 2022
‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham 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.”
What strikes you or stands out to you about the passage? What do you notice. Spend some time thinking about the messages of the scripture reading…
For me it is the rich man’s confounding lack of sight!
In life, the disparity between their conditions had no effect on him. But, clearly he knew who Lazarus was because there in his horrible after-life he knows Lazarus’ name.
“Send Lazarus!” He says twice! First, “Send him to quench my thirst.” Then, “Send him to warn my brothers.”
He simply can’t see Lazarus as more than a servant.
And, why can’t he speak to Lazarus directly? If Abraham can hear him across the divide then certainly Lazarus can too.
My guess is that it’s probably because he spent a whole life not acknowledging Lazarus. The chasm between them is insurmountable because the rich man has built it that way!
The passage has me thinking: What is it that would enable the rich man to see Lazarus for the human being that he is?
Luke spends a lot of time talking about money – all the parables of the last few weeks have touched upon it in one way or another – probably because then, like now, the impulse to orient our lives around its gain was strong. If you are driven primarily by wealth, and the world you occupy is organized around its accumulation you may succeed in becoming rich, but what will you sacrifice?
Will you turn into the kind of person who is numb to the needs of others?
Will you be blind to the help you’ve had along the way?
Will you think of yourself as self-made and will you expect others to measure up to your standard?
Will you have room in your world for something more than your own interests?
So, in part the passage has me thinking about the forces that shape us. In the rich man’s case wealth blinds him and even hell can’t force him to see. And again, I wonder, what might make him see?
One answer that comes to mind is community. I think we’re more effected by our communities and the sub-cultures in which we immerse ourselves than we often understand. Imagine if this rich man were part of a philanthropy club. Imagine if he met everyday with a bunch of people whose passion it was to give away money to important causes. Do you think he would have remained blind to Lazarus at his gates?
The real-life community that I keep thinking about is Cometa, which is the fostering village that I told you all about last week (if you were there for our annual meeting.)
Cometa was one of our pilgrimages while on sabbatical, and for me it was by far the most powerful one.
At Cometa they provide homes for families and for children who are awaiting adoption. They make those homes beautiful in simple ways because by surrounding people with beauty they can show people that they matter. You may remember the picture from last week of their cafeteria, which is more like a dining room with a big U shaped table. Drilled into each setting is a hole where fresh flowers are placed for decoration. On the wall behind the base of the U is a painting of Mary pulling a child up to her. But, the child isn’t Jesus like most “Mary and Child” paintings you see. The child is one of many, and she’s flanked by children too because as I was told, “Mary is the mother of all.”
At the time of our visit summer camp was going on, and there were about 100 kids outside watching a falcon show. During the school year there’s an after school program for kids with special needs. There’s also a vocational school for older students who are otherwise slipping through the cracks of traditional education. There’s a bakery with a head chef who works with disabled young adults selling amazing breads and pastries to the community. (Last week I showed a picture of Mercedes hugging one of the employees who served us up some goodies. The love in the picture makes it one of my favorite moments of beauty that we were able to catch on camera.) There’s also a cafe where the traditionally abled and the differently abled work together, applying their talents the best way they can, to run a restaurant that’s as good as or better than most that we went to throughout our travels. If you read the David Brook’s article I’m pretty sure it’s the restaurant that Marcello manages, the guy who said, “I’m the 100% real Marcello here. I’m talking about my life, not my job.”
The Executive Director’s name was Alessandro, and he spent most of the day with us. For all the amazing programming that Cometa does I was impressed at how chilled out Alessandro was. I couldn’t help asking him about his budget and how many millions of dollars it took to run the place. The numbers indeed were big, and though some came in from government grants, he had to fundraise a lot. I told him I would be stressed about that. There just seemed to be so much riding on their ability to pay for the remarkable things they were doing with people. He acknowledged that it wasn’t easy, but it’s not like he said, “Oh, thank God. Someone finally sees the pressure I’m under.” He was far more interested in enjoying the cafe with us and introducing us to the waiters whom he knew personally. He seemed to have special affection for this one guy who we learned was a stand-out basketball player for his special olympics team.
Later I told Angela how impressed I was by Alessandro’s relative calm as he juggles Cometa’s many moving parts. She said, “He and I had a great talk about faith. He told me how he’s learned to trust God, and how it’s made this huge difference in his life.” She told him how she trusts too, but then she takes it back (which I think we can all relate to.) The conversation went on, but the key to it was that he didn’t take it back. He had learned how not to take it back, and it occurred to me how that likely wasn’t because of some heroic capacity for faith. It was much more likely the case that through his immersion in this life-changing community of sincere love, deep relationship, and hopeful faith, trust was the kind of thing that was more apt to happen. If he were removed from the community, raising money for programs to which he wasn’t personally connected, I imagine the stress would outweigh the trust. But there, in the mix of it all, seeing lives blessed, and honored, and renewed, on a daily basis he was witness to the work of God in ways that enabled him to believe that God would show up, that God’s Spirit would be present offering what was needed and presenting new possibilities along the way.
Part of what all this says to me, whether thinking about Luke’s story of the rich man and Lazarus or Cometa’s story of blessed lives, is how crucial it is that we not go it alone, and that we not view the life of faith as an independent solitary journey or exercise of the mind. We’ve been brought into the community of the church for a reason. It’s here in the functioning of a community of lived faith that things like trust in God and our ability to see the other with love and compassion become possibilities for us.
But, there’s one more thought that today’s passage brings to mind. It’s the contrast between the rich man’s unseeing and God’s seeing. Jesus in all his parables points us to a God who sees. He sees the woman at the well. He sees the lost sheep. He sees the prodigal son while he’s still far off. He sees the tax collector up the tree, the leper calling out, the hungry crowds, the sick and possessed, Lazarus starving at the gates – he sees them all and he sees us all. No matter how great our faith or how strong our communities we have our blind spots; we are always in some ways un-seeing, but God is not. Jesus shows us that we are the kinds of people to whom God has come. We are all in need and we’ve all been graced. It is grace that opens our eyes and grace that claims us all.