Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
1 John 4:7 -21 and Luke 16:19-31
"Father Abraham," replied the rich man, "if someone would only go to them from the dead, they would repent." Abraham said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if one should rise from the dead."
I don't think that you and I could hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus without having some pangs of conscience. It seems as though Jesus is really pointing a finger at us, at all of us, about riches. If you read the Scriptures, particularly in Luke's Gospel, you can read many statements that Jesus made about people of wealth. It seems as though Jesus is very much against it. For example, in an earlier part of this same chapter from which we have the Gospel reading this morning, Jesus says this, "No man, no servant, can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or be attentive to the one and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and money." In another place, Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
So what are we supposed to do? Give away everything that we have? Establish some kind of commune? Is that really what Jesus had in mind? Even when Jesus says this and other things about riches, his behaviour is quite different. There was another man named Lazarus who was a good friend of Jesus. He was the brother of Martha and Mary. They lived in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. They were quite wealthy. Jesus spent a lot of time with them whenever He was in Jerusalem. Jesus could say that the birds have their nests and the fox has his den but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. He was quite dependent upon the largess of other people.
But does it mean that He was so against having wealth that He would tell all of us to sell everything that we have, give it to the poor and follow Him? There was another individual called Zaccheus. You remember the story. Zaccheus was very short. "Vertically challenged", we might say today. There was a crowd around Jesus and he couldn't see him. Because he was so short and the crowd was so large, he did the next best thing. He climbed a tree so he could look down. Jesus called him down from a nice sycamore tree. When the crowd murmured about Jesus striking up a conversation with Zaccheus, the tax collector, he stood before Jesus and said, "Lord, you know, I give half of everything that I have away." Jesus said to him, "This day salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:1-10).
So should we give away, if not everything, half of what we own? What is it that Jesus is trying to say to us about wealth? Is He saying to us, "Don't have any"? Or is He saying something different? If you listen to the parable in today's Gospel, you will understand Jesus' attitude toward wealth here.
Here is the rich man who partied every day. He lived it up. He had a big fancy house. He had guests over every day for one endless party. He ate well, he drank well. He lived well. He dressed in purple. Only kings dressed in such an expensive garment. He had everything he wanted and everything he needed.
Then there was Lazarus who was sitting out by his gate begging. Jesus presents, as only Jesus can, this pathetic figure of Lazarus at the gate begging, covered with sores, filthy. The dogs in the area would come up and lick his sores. He just yearned for a little crust of bread that would drop from the rich man's table, but he'd have to beat the dogs to it. What a pathetic sight. When the rich man came home, he'd have to step over this individual in order to get into his house.
So what are we to say about this rich man? What was it that Jesus was really telling us about this individual? That he was rich? He did not condemn the man's riches. What He did condemn was the fact that the man didn't care. After all, Lazarus wasn't somebody who lived far away from him. He was right at his gate. But the rich man did not care. He would pretend that he didn't even see him. And it was precisely this lack of concern that Jesus would condemn.
The story continues: they both die. Lazarus now is in good shape; the rich man isn't. He pleads with Father Abraham, "Just have Lazarus dip his finger in some cool water and touch my tongue to relieve some of the torment that I'm experiencing." Abraham says, "No, you had it well when you lived. Lazarus didn't. Now the roles are reversed." "Well, at least, send him back to my brothers. I've got five of them. And they're living as wildly as I did. Let them be warned so that they don't end up in this place." And what was Abraham's answer? "They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them."
The Word of God should be sufficient for them. The Word of God should be the sum and substance of the faith and belief of a good orthodox Jew. This Word of God speaks volumes on how they were to behave; how they were to live; how they were to care for one another. The rich man said, "They won't listen to Moses or the prophets. They don't read the Scriptures. They don't read anything. But if somebody appeared to them from the dead, that would shake them up and they'd change their ways." "If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets," responds Abraham, "They aren't going to believe, even if someone comes back from the dead." Those are Luke's words as he wrote them in the year, roughly, 80 A.D. But Jesus said to him, "This day salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:1-10).
What is it that Jesus really wants us to understand about this whole episode? About riches versus poverty? Jesus would say, "Whatever you have is a gift from God; use it. In other words, be a people who care about one another because this will truly identify you as My followers. By this, all men will know that you are My disciples." So what are we to do? Whip out our Visa cards and take care of whoever is around us in need? See if we can alleviate some of the grossest injustices that we see? That isn't what Jesus has in mind at all. For some, perhaps that will work.
Jesus is saying, "What I want you to do is understand this. Everything that you are, everything that you have is a gift from your Father. Everything. And because everything is a gift from your Father, be generous with those gifts. Love one another. Share with one another." One of the hardest things that I find about myself is that I really don't always want to give of what I have. For instance, my time. Sometimes I really don't want to listen to that individual. Sometimes it's a bother. That person goes on with an interminable story that I've heard fifteen times before. I don't want to hear. Jesus is trying to tell me that is not what I am to do with the gift that I have. Sometimes our generosity means lending a willing ear to someone who needs that ear. Sometimes our generosity involves a simple touch, a hug for someone who needs it. Maybe it's just a word of comfort.
But, you see, if we are all so busy, or if we don't really want to be bothered, then there is something wrong with us. We are like that rich man: so blessed, and yet we don't give anything away. We don't want to get involved. Jesus is saying that is not the way it is to be with you and me. We are to give what we have to those who need it."
Did you hear those beautiful words in the first letter of John this morning? Not only does he give us that marvelous definition of who God is - that God is love - but he concluded our reading this morning by saying, "If anyone says, 'My love is fixed on God', yet hates his brother, he's a liar. One who has no love for the brother he has seen, cannot love the God he has not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: whoever loves God must also love his brother." That's a hard saying. It's difficult. And yet, this is what will identify us as a Christian people.
This is the gift that you and I offer to our Father through, with, and in Christ in this Eucharist. The bread and wine that we place on the altar are symbols of ourselves, the gift of ourselves. All that we are and all that we have, that God has blessed us with, we say to God our Father this day, "We offer this to you, Father. We offer ourselves to you, body and soul, everything that we have and everything that we are. We place them at your disposal, Father, as you show us your will. Help us to do your will in the way that we deal with one another.
What a gift we offer to our God this day! Let's not hold back. Let's understand that like the rich man, we have a choice. We believe in Someone who rose from the dead. Because we are believers, our behavior reflects it. We love the God that we do not see. We also love the brother and sister that we do see.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania