Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rich Man, Poor Man

Today's gospel (Luke 16, 19-31) is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, who sat outside his door begging. Since it was a made-up story, Jesus deliberately selected every detail, and I think they can be helpful for meditation. To start, we only know the name of one of the men - the poor one. Now, this in itself is unusual, since the name of a rich, powerful man is usually more likely to be known than that of a poor one. But the name "Lazarus" is given to the poor man. Maybe since the rich man found his identity in his wealth, maybe the Lord decided that it was the only designation he should have. In any case, Lazarus lived a very hard life, hoping for the scraps that were left after the rich man ate. Once they both die, Lazarus is in heaven and the rich man in hell (they did not use those terms in the parable, but it helps for our understanding). The rich man asks "Father Abraham" to send Lazarus to bring him some relief - water. Two things strike me. First, the rich man knows Lazarus' name. So he cannot even use the excuse that he did nothing to help him when he was alive because he did not see him. Second, the rich man still thinks he is better than Lazarus, even though he is the one in hell. He speaks as if Lazarus was a servant or slave who should be sent to help him. He does not even address Lazarus directly! When Abraham explains that it is not possible, the rich man shows a surprising side - he is concerned for someone else. Granted it is concern for other members of his own family, but it at least shows that he was not completely evil and uncaring. Abraham says no, stating that his brothers have "Moses and the prophets - let them listen to them." The rich man knows that his brothers are no more likely than he was to pay attention to Moses and the prophets, but reasons that they will if someone comes back from the dead. In a wonderful prediction, Abraham says that those who do not listen to Moses or the prophets will not be persuaded, even if some should rise from the dead. So the question is - where am I in the story? I know that I am not completely bad, but neither was the rich man. But how many times have I seen people around me but really seen what they needed? How well have I listened to Moses and the prophets? How well have I listened to One who rose from the dead? It was too late for the rich man in the story, but it is not too late for me. I can still take care of Lazarus, and still change my life to do God's will rather than my own. In fact, I want to work so that God's will becomes my will. And by doing this, I just may end up being the one in heaven with the name given me by Jesus.

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