This Lent has been full of Parables, stories with a lesson, or lessons, but not always a clear lesson, not always the obvious one. This story was always a little weird, a little uncomfortable. But, this is one, this is a story that tells the lessons Jesus had been trying to teach.
In our story, Lazarus probably has nothing to do with Mary and Martha, although in some of the gospels they have a brother who shares that name. Lazarus is not well. While it’s not explicitly said, it’s possible that he can’t walk because the text says he is placed outside the wall at the gate. I imagine that this is the best they thought they could do for him. Maybe his friends, that place him there, were struggling, too, and they thought, maybe, someone would see Lazarus and give him a hand, help him out, notice him. All kinds of things happened at gates: disputes were settled, security was kept, and sometimes, the poor sat, asking for help. When I lived in the San Francisco area, and you tried to leave the city by car within 3 hours of 7pm, you’d get to know those who sat the gates to the highways, because the same person was usually there, and you, the driver, were going to be sitting there for a while because no car moved very quickly.
Lazarus gets a name. We’ve been looking at parables for a couple of weeks now and Jesus never seems to give the characters names, but Lazarus does. Maybe we know his name as part of the great reversal, typically the powerful get names, the vulnerable get forgotten, except this time, when Jesus tells this story.
The rich man, no name, goes in and out of the gate. He is clothed in purple and the making of purple dyes was not a simple task. It involved getting the ink from mollusks, and then getting enough of it to dye enough fabric to make clothing. It was reserved for those with the most power, authority, and money. Usually royalty. But this man has some. And while our translation says that it was the finest linen, people I trust who translate the greek, suggest that it could be say: finest, expensive, Egyptian underwear. He had expensive clothes and fancy panties, his out and inwear were all the best. He feasted every day, which seems super extra, but it also means he made sure those who worked for me, couldn’t practice the Sabbath, the day of rest, because he needed to feast on the best every day. Lazarus couldn’t get himself food, couldn’t remove himself from the indignity of sores or the wild dogs that came and licked them, and the rich man did nothing.
It’s a parable, it’s meant to be above and beyond, exaggeration, but…
In August of this year, they told us that 8 million additional people fell below the poverty line, joining the 30 million people who were already there. Here’s the thing, of 3 only falls below the poverty line if they are making $21,960, which assumes one full time and one part time job at minimum wage, no vacations. I’ve looked for apartments recently, it’s hard to find a 2 bedroom for less than $1000, in a neighborhood you would feel safe in, assuming one of you family members is a child. Plus, 2 phones, electric and gas, water, internet if your kid is going to do any school work, gas for one car assuming no car payments, no child care, leaving you with less than $400 a month to feed 3 people, repairs, clothing, God forbid you get sick. It’s a wonder that more people didn’t fall below the poverty line because 60 million people have been below a livable income for years.
And the most vulnerable? Children and the elderly. People of color are disproportionately more likely to fall below the poverty line.
50 years ago, the top 10% made 2x as the middle class and 7x more than the bottom 10%. In 2016 the top 10% made 13x as much as the bottom 10% and 3x as much as the middle class. This past year, the billionaires of this country added another $1.1 trillion dollars to their collective wealth. I bet they have nice gates.
And it’s nice to think they they are the problem, but, how quickly we get to a place where walk by someone in need and hide our face, how easy it is to turn off the TV, how we fear being overwhelmed by need that we choose not to open up to anything, or any one, and we know, it isn’t just around the world, but down the road, around the corner, in our town.
Wealth couldn’t keep the rich from death. Lazarus was carried to the afterlife like he was carried to the gate. He was cared for, while the rich man was, well, not. It makes me wonder if the Rich Man suffering was because he had to take care of himself and not living in the lap of luxury. But he was thirsty, so maybe it was more than that.
They physical barriers that had kept them separate in life manifested as a chasm in death, a divide between the two. This is the great reversal that Mary sang about when she was pregnant, of the fall and rise of many, where the last shall be first and the first last. The world would be turned upside down, the rich would be left wanting, while the poor and sick are comforted.
And like the rich man, we know! He KNEW Lazarus’s name! He KNEW who was sitting outside of his gate! He KNEW the need and yet, he did nothing. He chose not to think about it. He chose to do nothing. When they reached the great beyond, they were in the same place, and the rich man KNEW Lazarus’s name, and was certain that his brothers would know Lazarus. He asked Lazarus to work for him, to bring him water, and to go see those 5 brothers of his, like the ghost of Christmas Past to convince them to change. Here’s the thing, his 5 brothers and him, that makes 6. 6 was a number of incompleteness, but 7 includes the Sabbath, 7 is a number of completeness, 7 is a number of wholeness. If they had seen Lazarus as their brother there would have been brought into wholeness. They would have been able to live fully into the whole world if they had seen Lazarus as their brother.
And we, we are the brothers. We, we are the ones with time. We are the ones who pass through gates. We are the ones who have life still ahead of us. We are the ones to choose, to look upon our neighbor as sibling, someone who makes us whole, who allows us to live not abundant life making room for others to live abundantly, too. This afterlife that they were in was created by the world around them here. This well lived eternity is about a well lived today. For Jesus, so for us, it’s about making the world a more equitable society, looking out for the poor, making the world around you a better place. it’s about who you spend your time, your talents, your energy, your money. it’s about your money.
It isn’t about giving up everything you have, but just before this parable, Jesus told those listening, that they could not serve both God and money. Serving Money leaves Lazarus at the gate. It’s about serving our neighbor, caring for our neighbor. It’s about equity, about doing what we can to care for each other.
And maybe, when we open up to our neighbors, and yes, maybe when we meet the person at our gate, we’ll be more open to others and more and more. But it can also connect us to each other. The rich man wouldn’t have been on his own to care for, to raise up, to offer support to Lazarus on his own, he had his brothers! We don’t care for each other on our own. It’s why we’re part of a church, why we create non-profits, why we give as we do this week to One Great Hour of Sharing–because we know we can do more when we work together
If you have enough, can you give? What are you going to do with the extra? Maybe the stimulus is exactly what you need to make your living fair right now. But maybe it’s bonus for you, and there is some way it can raise up someone in need, that you can give if you are able.
I didn’t include any art from this story, because this isn’t a story about heaven and hell, this isn’t a story about suffering, this isn’t a really a story about eternity. This is a story about right here, right now. This is a story about how we care for each other, how we make the world a more equitable place, how we look out for each other, look at each other, know each other, and care about each. This is a parable about how we use our resources and what kind of people having resources makes us. Who are you going to let it make you? And it’s a story of impossible things, how impossible it was for the rich man to reach Lazarus, to act, to give, to care in a way that would be transformative for both their lives. Impossible, but Mary’s song also told us, nothing is impossible with God. With God we are connected, we are supported, we are not alone, and we are not overcome.
It’s not always easy, and money isn’t really what most people want to talk about, but, it is what Jesus spent time teaching about more than anything else. How are you resources, how is your money, how are you going to create with God the kin-dom on earth?