19 Jun 2022
The Gospel. St. Luke xvi. 19.
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
When you read your Bible, particularly Luke's Gospel, you can find many statements that Jesus made about wealthy people. Off hand, it seems as though Jesus is very much against riches. For example, in an earlier part of this same chapter, Jesus says this, "No man, no servant, can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or be attentive to the one and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and money." In another place, Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
So what are we supposed to do? Give away everything that we have? Is that really what Jesus had in mind? Even when Jesus says this and other things about riches, his behavior doesn’t seem to say stay away from the rich. You recall, there was another man named Lazarus who was a good friend of Jesus. He was the brother of Martha and Mary. They lived in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. They were quite wealthy. Jesus spent a lot of time with them whenever He was in Jerusalem. Jesus could say that the birds have their nests and the fox has his den but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. He was quite dependent upon the generosity of other people like Lazarus.
But was He so against having wealth that He would tell all of us to sell everything that we have, give it to the poor, and follow Him? There was another man called Zaccheus. Zaccheus was very short. There was a crowd around Jesus, and Zaccheus couldn't see Him. So He climbed a tree in order to look down. Jesus called him down from a sycamore tree. When the crowd murmured about Jesus striking up a conversation with Zaccheus, the tax collector, he stood before Jesus and said, "Lord, you know, I give away half of everything that I have." Jesus said to him, "This day salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:1-10).
So should we give away, if not everything, half of what we own? What is it that Jesus is trying to say to us about wealth? If you listen to the parable in today's Gospel, you will understand Jesus' attitude better.
Here we see a rich man enjoying the good life as people in his day defined it. He had a big house. He had guests over every day for those long, leisurely meals they so enjoyed. You can be sure that he ate well, and he drank well. He had everything he needed—maybe even everything he wanted.
Then there was Lazarus who was sitting outside the rich man’s gate begging. Jesus shows us Lazarus at the gate, covered with sores, and filthy. The dogs would come up and lick his sores. He yearned for a little crust of bread that might drop from the rich man's table, but he'd have to beat the dogs for it. When the rich man came home, he'd literally have to step over Lazarus in order to get into his house. We never learn the rich man’s name.
So what are we to say about this rich man? What was it that Jesus was really telling us about him? That he was rich? Jesus did not condemn the man's riches; what He did condemn was the fact that the man didn't care. After all, Lazarus wasn't somebody who lived far away from him. He was right at his gate. But the rich man didn’t care. He would pretend that he didn't even see him. And it was precisely this lack of concern that Jesus was condemning.
The story continues: they both die, and the tables have turned. Lazarus is the one who is well off and in Abraham’s bosom or heaven; the rich man isn't. He pleads with Father Abraham, "Just have Lazarus dip his finger in some cool water and touch my tongue to relieve some of the torment that I'm experiencing." The separation between Abraham and the rich man represents the separation between virtue and wickedness that cannot be overcome after death. And, oddly, the rich man’s attitude toward Lazarus hasn’t changed all that much—he still sees him as some sort of servant. Abraham says, "No, you had it well when you lived. Lazarus didn't. Now the roles are reversed." Really, Abraham is saying that the time for penitence is now over, and judgment has been fixed. If the rich man thought back, he would now see the missed opportunities every time he had passed Lazarus by without an act of charity or a word of comfort…or every time he listened to talk from other rich men which encouraged his greed. "Well, at least, send him back to my brothers. I've got five of them. And they're living as wildly as I did. Let them be warned so that they don't end up in this place." It seems the rich man still cared about his family even after his own death, but to what benefit? What was Abraham's answer? "They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them."
The rich man said, "They won't listen to Moses or the prophets. They don't read the Scripture. But if somebody appeared to them from the dead, that would shake them up and they'd change their ways." "If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets," responds Abraham, "They aren't going to believe, even if someone comes back from the dead." Those who rebel from God in this life are not persuaded even though One who did rise from the dead comes to tell them what is true. Is the resurrection of Jesus then of no avail? To those who are ready to follow Him it is life itself.
What is it that Jesus really wants us to understand? Jesus would say, "Whatever you have is a gift from God; use it. In other words, be a people who care about one another because this will truly identify you as My followers.” So what are we to do? Sometimes our generosity means lending a willing ear to someone who needs that ear. Sometimes our generosity involves a simple touch. Maybe it's just giving them a word of comfort. But, you see, if we are all so busy, or if we don't really want to be bothered, then there is something wrong with us. We are to give what we have to those who need it.
This is the gift that you and I offer to our Father through, with, and in Christ in the Eucharist. The bread and wine that we place on the altar are symbols of ourselves. We say to God our Father this day, "We offer this to you, Father. We offer ourselves to you, body and soul, everything that we have and everything that we are. Help us to do your will in the way that we deal with one another.”
Source: First Sunday after Trinity--June 25, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN
Bishop Edwin Tompkins