[Jesus said:] ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,* who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’* The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He 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. Besides 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.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He 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.’ ”
Luke 16:[10-15]; 19-30
Between last week’s text and this week’s text I’ve been thinking a lot about my trip to India. While I was a student in seminary and while I was struggling to make ends meet, the seminary changed their curriculum to include a cross cultural experience.
While I thought the switch was a good one, I was anxious about having to go on that year’s trip to India. I didn’t believe I could afford it and I was concerned about the money I would have to spend. You see, I felt like I was a poor broke student.
I still remember arriving in India and making our way from the airport to the place where we were staying. It seemed like a whole new world and for all intents and purposes it was.
I’m still affected by those first sights as I drove through the city that night. I remember darkness and the light of fires. As we drove down the streets I remember thinking how humble their homes were, in fact, I thought of them as shacks. As we continued on our journey, I began to realize that those homes that I had thought of as shacks were actually castles compared to what I was beginning to see. As we got further, my eyes adjusted to seeing in a new way and I realized that the shadows on the sidewalks were actually people who had stretched out to go to sleep.
I learned in India that what I thought was my poverty, was what they would consider advantage.
What I thought was destitution was hope because of my educational opportunities.
I had been seeing all that I could see in our culture where I had compared myself only to others who had what I thought as more financial advantage than I did. I had never stopped to open my eyes to the advantages that I had that many around the world, and even in our own country didn’t have.
Sometimes poverty is in the eyes of the beholder. Sometimes we see what we want to see.
Jesus tells us this story of the rich man. We don’t know his name. We don’t even know much about him except that he has siblings. But there is something in this story that reveals quite a lot about him.
In life it seems the rich man had eyes only for himself, while at the gates that he had erected, possibly to keep those uncomfortable realities out, there sat a man desperate and in need. There sat Lazarus, ignored and shamed. When Lazarus would have been grateful for the scraps off the table that the dogs wouldn’t eat, the rich man ignored him. The rich man didn’t see that in front of his gate sat a human being in pain, in front of his gate sat a fellow man, that in front of his very own gate sat a human being created in the image of God.
And then we see that as the tables turned, when comfort finally came for Lazarus who was so hungry, the rich man only thought of Lazarus only in terms of his own needs and wants. When this poor man who was someone most of us would turn our eyes away from as those dogs that ate the garbage on the streets would lick the wounds on his body, when this man Lazarus, finally found comfort in the bosom of Abraham, the rich man still could not see him as he truly was, a human being, a neighbour, a child of God but instead saw him as an object, as someone who was only there for him, who could serve him and make his unease more comfortable.
We begin to see that the chasm that is between the two of them that no one can cross is the chasm of not being able to see what really is. That other people are not there to be used for our own comfort making our life easier. But that other people are human beings, brothers and sisters in the family of God.
We begin to see through God’s glasses of love, mercy and grace. And the ones we turn our eyes away from we begin to see as brother and sister, family and friend. We begin to see the truth that we are all woven from the same fabric and that the labels we give are the gates to keep the comfortable out. We begin to see that those we wish to ignore who are desperate for mercy are just like you and me.
Later that same trip, after our visit to Mother Theresa’s nursery, after we ignored a young woman holding a baby, begging for more, we found ourselves on the road again to another place. I sat in back seat of the cab silent as I couldn’t put into words the emotions that I was feeling. Silent with my head against the window tears in my eyes, not even knowing why, my eyes caught a young woman’s eyes in an approaching vehicle.
I still don’t know what happened. I can’t even quite explain it. But in that moment, she and I shared something of our shared humanity together and it was a sacred moment. A moment where through God we became connected as human beings, as sisters, without even saying a word.
This text is not a passage that speaks about what gets us into hell. This passage doesn’t even tell us how to get into heaven. It is a commentary on the chasm that is created when we use anything as an excuse so that we do not have to see another who is suffering as human. It is a commentary showing us that all too often it is easier to see another human as someone who can make our lives easier rather than a brother or a sister loved and cared for by God.
We are and we are not the rich man. We are and we are not the poor man swept up to the bosom of Abraham. We are both of these people.
We are the ones who are blind and do not see and at times we are the invisible.
Whoever you are today, may the scales fall from your eyes and may we see that we are all God’s family. Loved and beloved, held in the bosom of Abraham. Thanks be to God.