Contrast
Luke 16:19-31

Today’s gospel reading has the potential to be used to declare open season on wealthy people, if we take this parable literally that would be an easy thing to do.  But the message is deeper than that, there is warning, there is dismay and even fear within it, there is also blessing it is aimed at all of us, so let’s look a little closer and see what we discover.

We need to remember that this is a parable, a story used to give an example to the hearers; it is not an account of an event that actually took place.  These are not real people.  It is Jesus’ way of teaching his followers and the Pharisees who were there to listen to him by providing an example that they could understand and put into action.

The scene is set with our rich man, all dressed up in his finery and feasting every day on the best things available.  This is contrasted with the poor man named Lazarus who spends each day lying at the rich man’s gate hoping to get some scraps from the table.

Both men die, and once again we see a contrast, the poor man is carried by angels to be with Abraham, one of God’s chosen people.  The rich man was buried and was being tormented in Hades.  Two very different scenarios that they are face with.

In life the rich man had it good, in death, not so much, in life Lazarus suffered and went without, in death things appear to be going much smoother for him.

That’s when the rich man starts begging with “Father Abraham” for mercy and a little bit of water to cool his tongue.  Was he repenting or was he still just thinking about his own needs?  Interestingly we don’t hear any more about Lazarus in the parable, the focus is entirely around the rich man, he is the one with issues to be dealt with.

Abraham tells the rich man that there is a chasm that is fixed between the two places; there is no way for anyone to pass between either.  It is for all intents and purposes too late for the rich man, his lot is fixed.

So he changes his tactics, he finally starts to think about someone else, even if it is his own family and his desire that they not be subjected to the same torment that he’s now experiencing.  That says a fair bit about how his brothers are currently living their lives too.  Abraham explained that they have Moses and the prophets to listen to; they don’t need someone to come back from the dead to tell them what happens.  The Bible, God’s own word to his people should be enough for them to believe and repent, if its not, then no miracle like someone rising from the dead is going to help them believe.

How do we respond to this parable?  Do we get all bent out of shape about it or do we listen to it and learn?

Do we read and hear God’s word and believe it and change our ways, or do we continue like the rich man, who had no doubt heard the Word of God if his brothers had, and live our lives focussed on ourselves and gathering wealth around us, living in the manner to which we have become accustomed and ignoring others?

Do you see the contrasts in our society?  Are we a little insulated out here in the Eastern Suburbs?  We may not have someone lying at our gate hoping to get some scraps from our tables, but we don’t have to go very far to realise that there are people out there who aren’t doing as well as we are.  All you have to do is go down to catch a train and you realise there are people doing it tougher than most of us.  Do we look at them with judging eyes or do we look at them with compassion and love?  Do we fix a chasm between them and us and declare that never the twain shall meet or do we seek out the lost, the poor and the lame and love our neighbour as ourselves?

This parable is about reaping what we sow, using what God has first given us for the benefit of all people.  Are our lives about accumulating stuff around us to make us comfortable or are we about showing grace and love to others and living on enough so that others can also have enough?  This is one of the most difficult things in life to deal with, we have a human sense of justice, we want things for ourselves, we’ve worked hard to get them and we deserve them.  Yet that’s not what God’s kingdom is about.  Everything we receive is a gift from God, given to us freely, God wants us to share it with others.

I hesitate to go to this place, but Jesus did to teach the disciples and the Pharisees in the hope that they wouldn’t miss the boat…are we to be like the rich man, so focussed on life that we miss out on the gift of eternal life with God and instead wind up separated from God, where there is torment and thirst?  Or will we be like Lazarus purely and simply relying on God for all that he needs?

As I said at the beginning this isn’t saying we shouldn’t be wealthy.  Wealth comes from God too; he has given us gifts and talents that enable us to generate wealth.  But when the desire for it shifts our focus from God to wealth, we run into problems.  We need to take hold of the life that really is life, eternal life.  When we worship treasures on earth, the things of this life, we are in effect rejecting the gift of eternal life that God has given us.

We became his children in Baptism, we can only rely on his love and grace to forgive us when we follow in the footsteps of the rich man, if we take this parable literally, once we die it is too late to change our ways and realise our mistakes, that’s what this life is for, to live as children of God in his kingdom.  Loved, cared for, whether we are rich or poor, blind or lame, strong or weak.  God loved us so much that he gave up the life of his own son, who then rose again from the dead. 

We have read and heard about his victory over death through his Word, over and over and over again.  Have we seen the contrast between life and death?  Have we felt the chasm between the two?  Have we understood the agony of Jesus death as being a separation for a short time from God, and the relationship that they share?  Have we realised the blessing that God has promised us and are we living in the sure hope of things to come, or are we feathering our nests here?

Rejoice in the gift of life and love that God has given us through his son.  Live in relationship with him, seek his will for your life in his Word and be restored through his sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.  Don’t fix a chasm between yourself and God in this life, he loves you and wants to be in a close relationship with you.  Live in that blessing and share it with others.
Amen.