Faith in the raw. A United Methodist Certified Lay Servant (aka Speaker, aka Preacher) blogging the Revised Common Lectionary as a spiritual discipline, with other random thoughts thrown in.
On Twitter: @thenakedalien.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
The Parable of a Rich Man’s Burden
The Readings for September 26, 2010: Luke 16:19-31 and 1 Timothy 6:6-19
There's a rich socialite who throws a blow-out party every day for all his high-falutin' friends. I won’t even bother to dignify this leech on society by giving you his name! There 's this down-and-outer named Lazarus – no, not that one, a different one. Since he's covered with some nasty oozing skin infection, he's considered unemployable, and can't get a steady job, so he hangs out with a pack of unwanted feral dogs at the rich man’s doorway; hoping for table scraps. Only the dogs accept him as a pack-mate: cleanse his sores for him; keep him warm at night; comfort him.
No person notices when Lazarus dies in the street, but the angels do. They carried him gently to heaven and give him the first party he's ever had. Everyone notices when the rich man dies and there's one final blow-out for him - his funeral. The next thing he knows, the formerly pampered man finds himself suffering in a hell of a place! Maybe to torture hem, he's allowed by the demonic hounds of Hades to see all the way up to Heaven and guess what? He sees that pesky beggar hanging out with Father Abraham himself! He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to hell to help him sooth his burning lips, even though he had done nothing to comfort Lazarus’ burning skin.
Tenderly, Abraham turns him away. “Child, you got everything you ever wanted on earth, while Lazarus got everything evil done to him. Now he is comforted by all of heaven, while you suffer as you allowed him to suffer. The distance between the two of you is too great; we can not go to you nor can we bring you to us.”
The hell-bound man begs: “Then let me play Marley’s Ghost so I can warn my family of the peril they face by following in my footsteps!” Sadly, Abraham points out the weakness of the plan: “If like you they have long ignored the Law of Moses and God's Word through His prophets, they aren’t going to listen to anyone - not even someone whom God raises from the dead…”
Retelling of Luke 16:19-31
A couple of thoughts rush up to me.
Neither the unnamed rich man nor Lazarus is shown in the parable to be doing works meriting salvation. As a powerful member of a chosen people, the rich man may have had some expectations for an afterlife – God had obviously blessed him in life, right? By implication, he may have allowed his staff to throw rotten food and floor scraps at Lazarus – the welfare system of the day. So maybe he thought his works were sufficient? Lazarus on the other hand, may have been so busy surviving that he didn’t have time to think about life after death. He certainly didn’t have the resources to make sacrifices at Temple. Maybe he looked forward to death as an end to his suffering? Lazarus is lifted up by grace and mercy; not because of his works, but because of the works against him. Instead of the dark quiet of a pauper’s grave, he finds himself in angel-arms and enjoying the hospitality of the man who hosted God, Abraham! How many of us expect special treatment? How many of us expect abuse?
The other thought is the foreshadowing that even though God will sacrifice His Son to free us, we still won't truly deeply believe what a righteous life entails! God blesses us out of love - not merit. Yet we use those blessings to validate our notion that we are special - that we are "better" than others. We the rich look down upon the Lazari of the world and say to ourselves: "There but for the grace of God goes I!"
Where did the rich man fail?
“A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough.
But if it's only money these leaders are after, they'll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.
But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life - a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses.
I'm charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn't give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don't slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He'll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He's the only one death can't touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He's never been seen by human eyes - human eyes can't take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes.
Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage -
to do good,
to be rich in helping others,
to be extravagantly generous.
If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.”