This is one of those weeks where I’m not quite sure what to do. For the past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the “Great Reversal” in Luke. This week we’re looking at another paradigmatic example of that, the story of Lazarus. Note this is not the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead found in John 11, but the story in Luke 16:19-31 of a desperately impoverished man who can do nothing but waste away, begging at the gate of a rich man. Lazarus and the rich man both die, but their fates in the afterlife are quite different.
The rich man is tormented in Hades. As he is roasting in the flames, he sees Lazarus sitting in Abraham’s lap, comforted. He begs for a simple drop of water, but is denied. It’s a disturbing scene, but perhaps I’m more disturbed by the reasoning.
Abraham cites two reasons that the rich man will not – cannot! – be helped. First, Lazarus’ life was unrelenting suffering. In the spirit of the Great Reversal, he is now comforted. But the rich man had everything, every comfort in life. Now he suffers in agony. This is retribution. Second, there is a great chasm between the place of torment and the place of comfort. No one can cross from one side to the other. This is permanent. It gets worse.
The rich man, seeing that he cannot be helped, begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to the land of the living to warn the rich man’s brothers of the fate that awaits them. Again, Abraham refuses. He says that they have the warnings of Moses and the prophets and do not listen. He says they won’t even listen to one who has been raised from the dead. Their fate is inevitable. They cannot change. Nothing can be done.
Luke is a great gospel for social justice. It is very clear about good and evil. However, if you like Richard Rohr; or think of your faith as one of reconciliation, redemption, and transformation; or just like being rich or even comfortable, Luke is problematic. Since I fit a lot of those categories – I’m a lot more like the rich man than I am like Lazarus – I don’t like it, but there it is in my Bible.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, and help me read this text into something I like. Or maybe help me live with the discomfort.
Grace and Peace,