Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
10 ‘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. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,* who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No 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.’
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15So 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.
16 ‘The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it by force. 17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.
18 ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
19 ‘There was a rich man [Ἄνθρωπος δέ τις ἦν πλούσιος] who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay [ἐβέβλητο was put or cast] a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even [ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ κύνες] the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. [κόλπον Ἀβραάμ] 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. [καὶ Λάζαρον ἐν τοῖς κόλποις αὐτοῦ ] 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy [ἐλέησόν] 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 [νῦν δὲ] 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.” ’
Crossing the Chasm
Have you noticed our progression beyond the shepherd and the woman who never give up until the lost are found? We are led to the father who waits constantly hoping the son will return— again the lost is found, (15:24) and then taken to the elder favoured children of God. These include the elder brother; we don't know if he listened to his father's plea to enter his house. Also favoured are the amoral rich man and his steward, who appear too busy even to think about God but those who were rich were often considered to be God’s favoured and chosen people. The fact that the Pharisees who loved money ridiculed Jesus for that story, and for his insistence that wealth is idolatry, makes it plain they assumed that God was on their side along with the other rich folk.
And now we have arrived at the story of another rich man. Or have we come back to same rich man of 16:1-18? In the Greek, almost the exact same words are used in the story of the rich man and his steward and the rich man and Lazarus: there was a rich man. Is this the same man?
In this latest story, however, the lost are not found. There is no repentance. There is, instead, "a great chasm ... 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." There seems to be no hope of a reversal of the situation.
This is despite the fact that there is a series of reversals in these stories so far: the lost is found; the one who rejected his father repents, and then the apparently faithful brother rejects his father. Even in this current story, the rejected, ignored, and powerless one, is in the bosom of Abraham, and the blessedly rich man who had "good things" in life, is in agony. But now there is a gap which cannot be crossed. The gap between the rich man and Lazarus—although close by at his gate— was already enormous at the beginning of the story. Is it because the rich man refused to cross that gap, when he could, that he now cannot cross the gap when he wants to?
Let's dig deeper by looking at some of the underlying ideas in the text.
The word is not in the text, but the text of Luke 16 is clearly about idolatry, for in verse 13, Jesus says we cannot serve God and wealth.
What the Faith is saying, is that if we are not living for the justice of God; if we are not committed to a life and a purpose which is aimed to enable all people to live and be treated the same, then, by definition, we are serving mammon—our own material well-being and wealth, not God. (Andrew Prior)
Some Pharisees ridicule Jesus. The story is told as a warning to them: You are pretending to be holy but are actually lovers of money. You, the self-separated and self-proclaimed holy ones, are the idolaters. You are the rich man whose story I am about to tell. (We should remember that "the Pharisees" does not mean all Pharisees any more than "Christians" in the press today means all Christians.)
Think about this: Mammon is an idol. It is always an effort to secure our lives, our safety, and our comfort, through wealth and the power which flows from wealth. I try to highlight something about Jesus by retaining the Greek mammon when talking about these passages; mammon meant riches and money in the Greek, but Jesus' use of it is very clearly the usage expressed by Thayer as "the treasure a person trusts in." He could as well say, "The treasure a person puts their faith in." There is nothing accidental about mammon. The treasure of mammon is always connected, somewhere, to our existential survival. Mammon is what we do, or grasp, to make sense of our lives in the face of death. Either we trust God, or develop our own security; that latter trust is mammon and idol.
Repentance... is not in the text as a word, either. Yet as desperate and calculating as the younger son's approach to his father may have been, he nonetheless enters his father's house. That is a symbol of repentance begun. In contrast, even in Hades, the rich man still sees Lazarus only as a means to an end, as someone to use, to order around.
"Oh Father Abraham, send me my water boy! Water boy! Quick! I'm just about to perish down here. I need a drink of water!" (Cotton-Patch Gospels, Clarence Jordan quoted by John Petty)
The rich man worries and has compassion for only his family, which is a poor kind of neighbourliness in light of the actions of the Samaritan. The rich man probably had that compassion for his brothers before dying; nothing about him has changed yet. Repentance seems not to have begun.
Even in the beginning of the story the reversals are present. Despite all his riches, the rich man has no name. Sometimes he is called Dives, but this is simply the Latin translation of plousios, or rich. It is possible because of the order of the Greek text to translate it as there was a man, Dives… instead of there was a man rich— the Greek texts had no commas, but such a translation denies the obvious contextual meaning and the contrast to Lazarus who is ptochos; ie poor, and the fact that the text specifically says named Lazarus. Indeed, saying the man's name is Dives highlights our cultural affront that the poor man has a name and the rich man does not! Despite his utter poverty, Lazarus has a name; someone has noticed him even though the rich man ignores him.
As soon as I notice a name included among anonymous characters in a gospel story, I look it up. This is because rhetorically, or, as we could also say, 'in the way these stories work,' the significance of the one man is simply that he is rich. The significance of the other man is that he is poor, and that he is called Lazarus.
Lazarus is a Hellenized version of the popular name Eleazar. From (1) the word אל ('el), God, and (2) the verb עזר (azar), to help. (Here)
Lois Malcom notes "Lazarus is the only name given to anyone in Jesus’ parables; it means El-azar, 'God has helped.'" Luke is not being subtle.
I notice that the rich man says have mercy (eléēson) on me and send God has helped (Eleazar - Λάζαρον). I doubt that it is meant to be a pun across two languages, but the putting of the names together is surely ironic.
We westerners certainly feel the 'ick factor' in the comment about dogs licking Lazarus' sores. But if you walk a dog in my suburb, it is immediately obvious that folk from many other parts of the world are very, very cautious around our favoured pets. In much of the world, dogs may well kill you. (Also in some places in Australia.) Bill Loader suggests
the dogs would not be seen as doing him a favour, but as licking their lips for when they could tear him apart.
This insight suggests that not only is Lazarus very poor, but that he is weak and close to dying. But there is another possible meaning. Mark Davis says
Adawale ... makes the argument that the reference to dogs licking Lazarus’ wounds sounds like the lowest of the low in western ears, but in African culture – and evidence shows that this was true in the ancient near east as well – dog saliva is known to have beneficial effects for wounds and open sores.
What this means is that when NRSV says "even the dogs would come and lick his sores" it is not so much a statement about how bad Lazarus' situation was—not so much that he couldn't even keep the dogs off, as it is a contrast with and condemnation of the rich man who did nothing for Lazarus when… even the dogs would at least come and lick his sores. If we remember the racist epithet that Jesus once uttered, and immediately repented in Matthew 15 and Mark 7, is it possible that some of Luke's listeners would hear that this rich man is not even as merciful as a Canaanite 'dog'?
Again we have the reversal of what society expected.
First-century hearers of this parable would not have assumed that the rich man was evil and that the poor man was righteous. On the contrary, wealth in the ancient world was often viewed as a sign of divine favor, while poverty was viewed as evidence of sin. (Alyce McKenzie)
But look who gets to be with Father Abraham!
The story makes sure we realise this unnamed man was excessively rich: purple, fine linen, and sumptuous feasting every day. Barbara Rossing notes that
The rich man’s sumptuous feasting (“making merry,” euphrainomenos) ... echoes the "eat, drink, and be merry" boast of the man with bigger barns in Luke 12:19.
Audrey in our bible study commented that by contrast, Lazarus was "dressed in sores."
The bosom of Abraham
NRSV translates— one might say obscures— Abraham's bosom (κόλπον – kolpon) by saying Abraham "with Lazarus by his side," (23) or simply that Lazarus was "with Abraham." (22) But in the Greek text he was carried to the bosom of Abraham (22) and was in the bosom of Abraham. (23)
To be in someone's bosom has overtones of care and protection. Karoline Lewis suggests a certain censorship by the church. As though bosoms were getting a bit too intimate.
And so bosom of Abraham becomes simply the afterlife, heaven, if you will. Or, for Luther, the bosom of Abraham was the Word of God.
But what if the bosom of Abraham is truly the intimacy it implies? Comfort for Lazarus that he never, ever received. A sense of belonging for an overlooked man whom no one was willing to receive as their own. That feeling of knowing your needs will be tended -- and all of them. [Even if you are a disgusting beggar that lets the dogs like his sores. (My addition)]
To write out that old fashioned word is too lesson the offense of the reversal of fortune and blessing.
There is more to see here. People reclined to eat. They lay near each other on benches; there was often more than one person per bench. This is reflected in John 13.
22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom [Jesus] was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’
Verse 23 is μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ κόλπῳ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, which is roughly: the disciple of him in the bosom of Jesus. And the reclining next to Jesus is verse 25, is upon the breast (στῆθος -, stéthos) of Jesus.
Do you see that Lazarus, the hungry one who would happily have fed on the scraps that fell from the table, is now reclining at table next to Father Abraham himself, while the rich man is thirsting for even the damp on the tip of a finger?
We need to remember the warning of David Lose:
a parable is a parable, not a complete systematics. Parables aren’t told to give you a complete theological system or to address ultimate questions once and for all. They are meant to give us a glimpse -- often surprising, even jarring glimpses -- into the kingdom of God.
If we try to place this frankly terrifying parable in a wider or systematic theological context, we might say that it is utterly repugnant to think that God has created a world in which it seems many people will burn in hell, and equally repugnant to call this God "Love." Although much of the church has, throughout history, said just this, we should rebel against such a God, who would be a monster glorying in suffering.
In the end, where the church believes that God wills to destroy human beings it is projecting an image of our own limited humanity upon God rather than being formed in the image of God. We are the ones who kill and destroy. So Loader says of the text
This parable spun from folklore piety has some loose ends. People who build unbridgeable chasms and contemplate flaming people forever will gladly support the death penalty and setting limits to love and compassion in the here and now. In their own lives they will be like their god, knowing that there are times when they should shut the door or even start the flaming violence towards those whom they condemn.
When we insist on a God who damns for ever, and who burns people, we are still, in large measure, worshipping the god who is an image of ourselves... which is drifting into idolatry... which is the great danger of wealth, for it enables that easier worship we call mammon.
I want to hammer this point about hell and fire, because we seem to skip around it, either by ignoring the evil of eternal punishment, or by adopting an easy universalism which makes light of evil. So, to restate my claim in the words of David Bentley Hart:
If we did not proclaim a creatio ex nihilo—if we thought God a being limited by some external principle or internal imperfection, or if we were dualists, or dialectical idealists, or what have you—the question of evil would be an aetiological query only for us, not a terrible moral question. But, because we say God creates freely, we must believe his final judgment shall reveal him for who he is. So, if all are not saved, if God creates souls he knows to be destined for eternal misery, is God evil? Well, why debate semantics? Maybe every analogy fails. What is not debatable is that, if God does so create, in himself he cannot be the good as such, and creation cannot be a morally meaningful act: it is from one vantage an act of predilective love, but from another—logically necessary—vantage an act of prudential malevolence. And so it cannot be true. We are presented by what has become the majority tradition with three fundamental claims, any two of which might be true simultaneously, but never all three: that God freely created all things out of nothingness; that God is the Good itself; and that it is certain or at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God. And this, I have to say, is the final moral meaning I find in the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, at least if we truly believe that our language about God’s goodness and the theological grammar to which it belongs are not empty: that the God of eternal retribution and pure sovereignty proclaimed by so much of Christian tradition is not, and cannot possibly be, the God of self-outpouring love revealed in Christ. If God is the good creator of all, he is the savior of all, without fail, who brings to himself all he has made, including all rational wills, and only thus returns to himself in all that goes forth from him. If he is not the savior of all, the Kingdom is only a dream, and creation something considerably worse than a nightmare. But, again, it is not so. God saw that it was good; and, in the ages, so shall we.
The dilemma for clergy—and for all of us, once we "cannot unsee this," is that we are left with a biblical text which uses a morally obnoxious illustration to make its point. To make this clear: I used to tell a sermon joke based in Genesis 3. It worked off that common experience where even though you can tell someone's home, they are not answering the door; behold, I stood at the door and knocked. And then one day I realised that, in each congregation, there is a group of women for whom the joke was not funny at all; what had seemed to be an innocent double entendre, even though told in a woman's voice, was actually masking an all too common experience of abuse. So I don't tell the joke; it's appalling once you see what it can trigger for a person.
How much more then, should I eschew a story which implies a moral babarism on the part of God? If I see the appalling evil of eternal torment, why would I use an illustration and an exhortation which depended upon the reality of such an evil to say something about the nature of the God who is Love!?
We sometimes complain that people preach to scare folk into the kingdom. If we unravel the logic of that preaching we find, in the end, that God does not love us, and the creation is not good, because some of it—some of us—are irremediably irredeemable. Or else, God is not really God, for, after all, not everything can be forgiven.
"But Jesus said it! Jesus told this story," someone cries. Well… did he? We are allowed to ask that question. Did someone tell a story about Jesus, a story which doesn't measure up to the implications of the love of God that Jesus teaches us, but which Luke heard as Jesus' voice? This speculation gets us nowhere, for the text is still in the gospel.
I suspect that as a man of his time, even Jesus had not yet seen how much the old understandings of judgement were only partial and imperfect. He did, after all, say the Spirit would lead us into all truth, and that we would do even more works than he, so we can expect to see some things with extra clarity as we follow the direction of his trust in God.
For some folk this sounds suspiciously like saying Jesus was not fully divine, or that he was a sinner like us. But his sinlessness is based, not in an unhuman, and therefore, not fully human perfection, but in his willingness to go where discovery and insight takes him. The classic illustration of this is when a Canaanite woman opens his eyes as she says "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table." He immediately repents of his newly understood racism and heals her daughter; our sin is not that we are not morally perfect or completely just, but that we refuse to repent of imperfections as we learn them. So even if they were passed on to us by Jesus himself, perhaps we should repenting of some of the ideas we have received, once we see their imperfections.
In other words, if Jesus were on the road to Jerusalem today, would he even use the illustration of a man among the flames of Hades in order to warn us of the idolatry of mammon, and what it can do to us?
Given that the story is in the gospels we have received, perhaps he might say, "You have heard it said (cf Matthew 5:21, 25, 31, 33) about a rich man and a poor man called Lazarus… … … But I say to you…" In each of the cases in Matthew, he is not contradicting or lessening the law and tradition. He is pulling his listeners back to what it meant in the beginning. (cf James Alison in The Joy of Being Wrong pp )
But before we imagine what Jesus might say in a midrash on his former teaching, we need to consider how we speak of the consequence of our evil and sin. How does that all work out? Surely God punishes evil in some way!? Well, apparently… no. The loving father gave the son what he desired. And after all that dissolute living, the father received him— welcomed him— home, with joy. No questions asked. No punishment. All that happened to the younger son, down to the pigs themselves, came as a result of his own behaviour and its consequences, not from something visited upon him—some punishment—by the father; indeed, the father watching "while he was still far off" (15:20) was desiring only that he come home and enter again into his house. In my congregation we ask at Easter time, "What happens when you try to kill the son of the king, and then find it didn't work, because he has come back?" We know what kings and princes do—people punish people, but our answer is that when this son of the king comes to those who fled him, and denied him, he says, "Do not be afraid," and "Peace be with you!"
So we could say, and it's an improvement on much of our grasping to express the nature of God's love, that in love God lets us walk away. God does not force us to obey. God does not remove our humanity by making us comply with a set of rules. We are free to be who we wish to be. And to come home when we wish.
But this is not enough. It makes God less than God should be, and it imagines that we are able to choose well and truly. The problem is really well expressed by Richard Beck.
On the one hand, the notion that Love isn't going to force or coerce anyone into heaven is perfectly true. I totally agree. But there's something problematic if this is all we mean by "freedom," God just leaving us to our choices. Again, freedom isn't just about choices. Freedom is about something deeper and more complex. Freedom has to be about what we care about. Freedom has to be about love. [Bentley Hart's artice has more on this.]
I think Augustine was pointing to this when he said that all our little loves are shadowy and incomplete until they fully rest in the Love of God. "Our hearts are restless," he famously wrote, "until they rest in Thee." Our affections are broken and scattered. Our loves are all pointed in the wrong direction. And due to that disarray our choices become sinful and self-defeating.
With our affections broken our choices are broken.
... If our affections are disordered there is no way we can "choose our way" toward God. Something deep within us is confused and disoriented. We want the wrong things. So if God wants us to turn toward the Kingdom God can't just abandon us to our choices. God can't just step back and say, "I love you. And because I love you I will step back to grant you freedom." That's a recipe for disaster.
I would add that in a world where our "disordered affections" are largely waiting for us when we are born,1 it would also be fundamentally unjust on the part of God to abandon us to the choices of our broken affections.
Beck is dialoguing with Rob Bell and CS Lewis in the article I am quoting. He goes on to say
No, love really wins only when God begins to work at a deeper level, when Love begins to work with our loves. Love moves our loves toward Love. Our desires and affections have to change before our choices begin to move. And that requires positive action on God's part. Not the Divine withdrawal and passivity that Love Wins imagines …
And I'd also like to make the point that this healing of affections is generally going to be a very slow process. Because Rob Bell's right on this point: God isn't going to overthrow or coerce our affections, internally or externally. God can't just change our affections overnight without that being experienced as a volitional assault upon us. These are psychic structures rooted deep, deep within our identity. These are psychic glaciers that are going to have to move at a glacial pace.
How does God work at this deep level? God works with and through the Christ who is teaching us how to love. The finality of love, the peak of love, is to die for the loved one, and that is where this progression through the gospel towards Jerusalem is taking us. So that we can see and learn how dying for the loved one works out: see that it means real death and yet see that even death does not destroy the one who loves. Jesus shows us that. And Jesus teaches us that we do not have to save ourselves from this, and that to trust mammon as a defence to delay death is unnecessary. (When I say "see and learn" I mean that we actively learn to begin to die for others. If we do not begin this in some small way, some small dying to ourselves, then our faith is simply theoretical, and has no trust in it.)
So what do we do with the story this week, and the chasm which seems so final? Perhaps Jesus would suggest the chasm is not there as some kind of 'cosmic object' put in place by God. Perhaps the chasm is within the rich man himself; he built it.
For it's not that he never saw Lazarus; on the contrary, he valued Lazarus. Lazarus was an object to be used. We say the poor become invisible; we sometimes berate ourselves for our hardness of heart, but I wonder if that is camouflage dressed up as guilt, for really, we want and need the poor at our gate. They are our reminder that our mammon, whatever it is, is working. We are more fortunate than them, we are better than them. The poor are not invisible in Australia. Rather, the Government constantly draws them to our attention! It spends millions on singling them out—ten thousand dollars per Indue cash card, the better to hate them, so that we will love the government. Our economic system depends upon a pool of unemployed whom then punish.
The rich man knew exactly who Lazarus was. Lose says
After all, in the afterlife he not only recognizes Lazarus, but refers to him by name. Moreover, he continues to treat Lazarus as if he were a servant, asking that Abraham send him to bring a drop of water and, failing that, to warn his brothers. The rich man, that is, continues to fail to treat Lazarus as a person, as an equal, as one deserving of compassion and regard.
That is the chasm; we use the poor. There is a path back to Abraham, but the rich man has to stop using Lazarus, and start treating him as a person. As Beck suggests, that may be a glacially slow relearning. I am tempted to say that if God really loves us, then there must be eternity! Otherwise we'll never have time get back to God.
And as Jesus retells this story he might point out that not only does the rich man know Lazarus, but that rich man has not been abandoned! The rich man is still able to talk to his father Abraham. He still knows who his father is! The chasm is nowhere near as wide as the rich man thinks. Jesus might say to the rich man,
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… unless you cross it. You can cross it. You can come and rest in my bosom and recline at my table and eat… if you will only accept Lazarus as your brother. For then, you will be living in the image of God, and facing toward the kingdom of God. And will see there is no chasm at all, and there are no flames, except in your own mind. When you separate yourself from Lazarus you turn your back on me.
If we have read the last story in the Narnia Tales, we will recognise Lewis' telling a similar story as he contrasts the perceptions of Caspian and the children about the feast of heaven, with those of some dwarves also killed in the last battle.
The end of the world is fast approaching, and the children who are the heroes of the series have already entered heaven. We are in the chapter called, "How the Dwarfs Refused to Be Taken In."
Aslan appears, and if you've read the books, you know Aslan is how Jesus is made flesh in the land of Narnia. Narnia is a land of talking animals and Aslan is a great Lion.
Aslan raised his head and shook his main. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarf's knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn't much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn't taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he'd found a raw cabbage leaf.
And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said "Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of the trough that a donkey's been at! Never thought we'd come to this."
But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarrelling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden underfoot.
But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said: "Well at any rate there is no Humbug here. We haven't let anyone take us in…"
"You see," said Aslan. "They will not let us help them. ... Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out." CS Lewis The Last Battle in the chapter "How the Dwarfs Refused to Be Taken In." Quoted here.
I think Frances Thompson had it right:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’ (The Hound of Heaven)
God does not send us away; God pursues us until we are at last able to see his love with 'un-disordered affection,' and then we will cease fleeing and there will be no chasms at all, anywhere, because
To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it. (Bentley Hart op. cit.)
We must come back to Lazarus. Because in this nuanced text, even though Lazarus has a name, he is "more of a two-dimensional example than a real character in this story." Having seen this insight from Mark D Davis, I cannot, as they say, unsee it. In my notes I asked, "Have 'the poor', even with a name, been diminished to being a prop against the rich? Has Luke's anger at the rich, already begun to use Lazarus?" The key religious opposition to Luke's community are the Pharisees, and Luke slanders them, as a group, as lovers of money; as the rich. The story is all about the rich man; Lazarus is a prop; he is given a name to make a point about the rich man.
There is a curious extra sentence to Bill Loader's paragraph which I previously quoted. He said
People who build unbridgeable chasms and contemplate flaming people forever will gladly support the death penalty and setting limits to love and compassion in the here and now. In their own lives they will be like their god, knowing that there are times when they should shut the door or even start the flaming violence towards those whom they condemn.
The last sentence says: Haters of the rich often become haters when power comes their way.
There is a fundamental question about conversion to the trust of God rather than trust of mammon, which underlies Bill's words. How much is our 'love of God' really a disguised and self-serving variety of mammon? When is a passion for growing the church and getting bums on seats, more about us? Or being a really good preacher about convincing ourselves how good we are because people like us? How much is helping the poor about helping us, proving to ourselves or own goodness and moral superiority, and deep down, using the poor. Why are they so often 'the poor,' rather than Tom, and Mary, and Lazarus.
I have stopped saying people are poor because it's their fault. I see the poor people on the street. I give them money, sometimes. All that, I have done. But I need to talk with them, and learn their name, so that they become people, not a prop. Because he knows Lazarus' name, perhaps even the rich man has begun to close the gap.
Andrew Prior (2019)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
1 James Alison
We always learn to see through the eyes of another. The desire of another directs our seeing and makes available to us what is to be seen [or not seen]. (On Being Liked pp1)
Also on One Man's Web
Luke 16:19-31 - Justice (2010) This post from nine years ago anticipated the content of today's post quite a lot. Even down to the joke I no longer tell!
Luke 16:19-31 - Hollowed Out Humanity (2016)
Worth reading this week:
Bill Loader: "One day you will have to face up to the truth about yourself. A favourite way of making this point in the ancient world was to imagine what happened to people when they died. Then their true reward would come…" Good background on ideas of heaven and hell at the time of Jesus.
Peter Lockhart: "Now here is an assumption that we all make about ourselves. Are you wealthy or not? And if consider yourself to be wealthy is this an indication that you are a good person or, well, otherwise? Most of you along with me would probably think that we are not that wealthy. For example if you read the figures in the Business Review Weekly’s top 50 entrepreneurs you would be staggered at how much some people earn. But all things are relative… "
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