Luke 16.19-end 1 Timothy 6.6-19 15th Sunday after Trinity Proper 21 (Year C)
- Introduce self
- A deep dive into the gospel reading, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. What are parables?
• An interactive art form:
o Not objective statements, nor are they illustrations of objective points. o Instead, they are narratives that reveal personal truth
o Not distant stories: they confront our mythologies.
o Not add-ons: they demand complete transformation for the kingdom to
• They are spaces through which God holds out to us the possibility of his kingdom
breaking into our lives. They are opportunities for re-orientation, for radical God- ward change.
Pray. Invite to turn to Luke 16.16.
- Within the Journey to Jerusalem.
o Luke 9.51: “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
o A journey towards the cross. This is not casual teaching. To be a disciple of Jesus is to join him on that same journey of self-denial.
- Also within a section about rich people and lovers of money.
o Chapter 16 is a discrete unit, bookended with parables, each of which begins with the saying “There was a rich man…”. The narrator says that these were addressed to “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money” (v.14).
o This section could be said to be the capstone of Luke’s prophetic critique of wealth.
! Mary announced God’s turning of the tables of wealth in the words “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (1.52),
! Moreover, Jesus affirmed by Jesus who said that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and hungry (6.20-26).
• If we are to daily set our faces to following Jesus, this will include opening our wealth and possessions to being subject to his Lordship. If we pray “your kingdom come”, then we need to be willing to let King Jesus rule over every aspect of our lives.
Today’s reading: a drama in three acts
- Act 1 (vv.16ff.) a tableau that introduces the characters – a rich man and a poor man.
- Act 2 (vv.22ff.) turns the tables: the rich become poor and the poor become rich
- Act 3 (vv.23ff.) is a an apocalyptic section that unveils the reality of judgement and the true nature of the rich and poor men.
ACT 1 (vv.19-21)
In Act 1, the two characters are introduced, separated by a gate: an un-named rich man, and a poor and lame man, who lies outside the rich man’s gate. It seems likely that someone placed him there that he might receive some form of help from the rich man, in line with Jewish teaching.
The contrast between the characters could not be stronger:
- Whereas the rich man is dressed in a manner reminiscent of royalty, the poor man’s skin is clothed only with sores.
- Likewise, although the rich man feasts sumptuously every day, the poor man can only dream of satisfying his hunger as a dog under the table of the rich man. The contrast is almost embarrassing. One has the appearance of success. The other of deprivation. Indeed, the humiliation of the poor man is completed by the dogs who, having eaten the scraps from the rich man’s table, came and licked the poor man’s sores. That seems to be some form of rubbing salt into the wound. Surely the name of the poor man cannot be Lazarus, which means “God helps” (Eleazar)? Whereas the rich man seems blessed by God, the poor man seems cursed. It is a scene of extreme contrast. I wonder which you most closely relate to at this stage? Are you more like the rich man, or the poor man? ACT 2 (v.22) Act 2 concerns the death of both characters. Again, there is a strong contrast, although the tables are beginning to turn: whereas the poor man “carried away by the angels to be with Abraham”, the rich man simply dies and is buried.
- This time, the one who seemed abandoned by God is now clearly cared for by him: as God’s angels take him to be with Abraham, the father of all Jews, Lazarus’ experience now rings true to his name: God helps.
- And this time, the one who previously appeared blessed with all manner of earthly riches, now finds himself buried in the earth, to be consumed by the earth. The one who the one who had overlooked another in need at his gate, now finds himself overlooked. Perhaps, in each case, we can say that their desires found fulfilment: the rich man consumed in earthly satisfaction; the poor man who knew that his only salvation would be in God found himself embraced in the loving kindness of God. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (1.52). The kingdom of God belongs to the poor and hungry (6.20-26).
I wonder with which character you are now identifying, or would like to identity?!
ACT 3 (vv.23-31)
Now narration gives way to conversation. Here, we witness three dialogues between the rich man and Abraham. Here, there is no doubt that the earthly poor have become rich and the earthly rich have become poor.
A scene is depicted in which the rich man and Lazarus are in opposite conditions:
- The rich man finds himself in Hades, tormented;
- Lazarus finds himself in the bosom of Abraham, the place of highest bliss in Jewish tradition. These conditions may have been surprising to Jesus’ listeners, the wealth-loving Pharisees, who believed that earthly blessings were a sign of God’s favour, and earthly hardship a sign of his displeasure. How could a beggar end up in heaven, not least one whose righteousness was not clear? Jesus’ had simply said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven” (6.20). The first dialogue between the rich man and Abraham (v.24) reveals the character of the rich man, one of self-centred entitlement in three ways:
- Even though his actions towards Lazarus have not shown him to be a true son of Abraham, he names Abraham as his father;
- Even though he had not offered any alms at the gates, he clearly knows Lazarus and calls him by name;
- Even though he had not served Lazarus’ needs on earth, he now expects Lazarus to serve his needs as he is tested in Hades.
Abraham responds, connecting and contrasting the lives of the two principal characters (chiastic):
(v.25) “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.”
Here we see that being simply being child of Abraham is no guarantee of dwelling with him in paradise. Indeed, just as the gate of the rich man separated and protected him from the obvious needs of the poor man, there is now a “great chasm” that separates them, not just from each other, but from the mercy of God.
(v.26) “Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has now 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.”
In the second dialogue (vv.27-28), the rich man, now realising the finality of his fate, appeals to Abraham to send a messenger to warn his five brothers to amend their ways.
Whilst he has realised that there is now no hope for him, he hopes for an alternative outcome for his family. Yet, whilst his thinking of others may finally be admirable, but his repeated expectation that Lazarus will run around doing his bidding immediately cancels that out.
The rich man is described as being in torment. The biblical Greek word for this, basanos (v.28), refers processes for extracting truth – either scratching a coin to check that it was not a counterfeit, or placing someone on a rack to get them to tell the truth. For the rich man, gone are the outward appearances of blessing – his true colours have been revealed.
Abraham’s response to the rich man is plain: he will not send Lazarus because the rich man’s brothers “have Moses and the prophets”, referring to the scriptures, to whom they should listen. That would be Moses, who said:
“Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbour’ (Deuteronomy 15.7)
And Isaiah, who said:
“Is not this the fast that I choose…
…to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
When you see the naked, to cover them,
And not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58.6-7)
That would be Moses and Isaiah, to whom the rich man, with Lazarus – his own kin in the family of Abraham – lying lame outside his house, hungry and covered in sores, had clearly not listened.
The final appeal of the rich man is that Abraham should send someone back from the dead to cause his brothers to repent. To repent literally means to change your ways, to turn around and act differently from how one acted previously. The hoped-for outcome is that they will listen to – in other words, to follow – the teaching of Moses and Isaiah. Abraham rejects the possibility of such a stunt out of hand. The teaching has been offered. If they choose to ignore it, why should a resurrected person make any difference?
I wonder with whom you are now most closely identifying? Now, we also have the option of identifying with the brothers – the ones who have had the opportunity to hear and respond to the word of God whilst we still have breath.
In our second reading, Paul unpacked not just the fact of having wealth, but its power in shaping the direction in which we focus our lives.
“There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment”, he says, “for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge
people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6.6-10)
The issue is not money itself. The question is what – or who – we are serving.
The death of her late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the second, has drawn our attention to the decisions that we make about our priorities in life. Whereas much of our culture urges us to adopt the understanding that “life is for living”, tributes to her late Majesty indicate that her approach was that “life is for serving”. In truth, in living, we are always serving something. The heart of the question concerns what or who it is that we are serving and what are the ways in which we will shape our lives. Are we serving money and lifestyle, or are we serving God?
The Northumbria Community rule comprises two simple questions:
- Who is it that you seek?
- How then shall we live?
In conclusion, I invite you, this week, to ponder these questions in your small groups and personal quiet times:
- Who is it that you seek? Do you seek to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength?
- How then shall we live? If we seek to love the Lord our God with all our being and resources, then how will that impact our every moment everyday decisions?
The good news is that Jesus Christ came, setting his face like flint towards Jerusalem to die, so that we might – in the words of Zechariah – be set free to worship God without fear, to live lives that are orientated towards him, to live lives that live out his commandments and reflect his character. Not I, but Christ in me, said the apostle Paul.
As climate change progresses, we will likely be faced with many more poor at our gates – those displaced from their homelands by wildfire or flood, some displaced by water shortage or warfare arising from the race to grab the resources of the earth. We may ourselves have been displaced from our homelands already, or we may ourselves face future displacement. The questions remain, today, and in whatever situation that may arise:
1. Who is it that you seek? 2. How then shall we live?
May God, the Father of all mercy, pour out his Spirit upon us that we may daily repent, set aside any self-centeredness or entitlement, and lead us to walk in the ways of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Revd Peter Gunstone
Sources: New Bible Commentary, New Interpreters Commentary