Suggested Lectionary Texts
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 , Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2 At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3a where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.
6 Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: 7 Hanamel, son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” 8 Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. 9 And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
1 Timothy 6:6-19
6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 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. 10 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. 11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. 17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘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. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has 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.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– 28 for I have five brothers–that he may warn them so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”
Upside-Down or Right Side Up
First, I want to talk about the name Lazarus in this parable. After much study and wrestling on my part, I was unable to find a clear-cut answer as to whether this is the same Lazarus that Jesus’ raised from the dead in John, or simply the name of a character in a story.
We need a little context for today’s parable. I want to back up and read vs. 16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. What in the world does that mean? Entering the kingdom by force?
What if it wasn’t “by force,” the way we usually understand it?
The use of force isn’t strongarming one’s way into the new age by brute strength or superior weaponry. What if, instead, Jesus was talking about those who think they deserve entrance? Those who politely place themselves at the head of the line. They thought they could get in through their status or wealth. They thought they were owed a place in God’s kin-dom.
Despite the focus on the death of both the rich man and Lazarus, the poor man, this is not really a story of heaven. It is a call to holy living, the pathway to theeternal glory. 11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. It is an invitation to listen to the prophets and the law and to live as though the kingdom was already among us.
Once again, Jesus is in the position of trying to help the Jewish leaders and Pharisees to understand. They can only imagine and see the world from an earthly perspective: A world in which you must gain as much power as you can with complete disregard for those who you deem unworthy. You might understand if Jesus is becoming a bit annoyed with their unwillingness to try to consider the words. After all, these are intelligent people.
Since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he has been teaching and modeling what it means to live a holy life. The rich and powerful don’t listen because obviously they are doing everything right or they wouldn’t have achieved their status. Right?!? Wrong?!? What is this Jesus talking about? Everything he says and does is in direct contradiction to our teachings. The teachings handed down from our forefathers.
He can’t be right, can he? From their lenses, Jesus is trying to turn the world upside down. What does it mean that the meek shall inherit the earth and that the last shall be first? We’ll just get rid of him and this craziness will stop!
Does there seem to be surprise on the part of the rich man who found himself in a place of punishment instead of the paradise he expected? I would have expected more exasperation on the part of the rich man. He is, however, bold enough to shout across the gap and ask for mercy, “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in the water to cool my tongue.”
We don’t have any indication of the tone of this request. He asks for mercy, true, but he still seems to see Lazarus as a means and not an end. Let him serve me. Send him to tend me. Despite his new location, it sounds like this falls in the same story, different place syndrome.
If you are looking for any sign of goodness in the rich man, you might consider why he allowed Lazarus to lay at his gate. Are crumbs going to fall from the rich man’s table to the gate area? It is likely that whatever crumbs Lazarus was living on came to him through the generosity of the rich man. Lazarus wasn’t chased away and perhaps was fed – not healed, but fed.
- Is this like putting out food for a stray cat? This is a person, a child of God!
The question of whether the rich man was a good man or had a good heart isn’t really addressed in this story. The problem is the “wall” or boundaries of separation. This wall was between the rich and the poor. Jesus, as Luke records the story, doesn’t seem concerned with the condition of the heart as much as the hoarding of wealth and the supposed power it brings. Jesus wants to turn the world right side up!
It is easy to laugh at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and leaders, but before we allow ourselves to poke too much fun at them, we might want to look around our own community. Do we still have walls that separate the haves from the have-nots? What doors do we need to open as a way of becoming more inclusive? How might we pray so that God can direct us to see the truth that surrounds us?
In an interesting departure from the usual, in this story, the only named character is Lazarus, the poor man. The rich man is anonymous. Another example of a new order. He could be anyone. He could be the one Jesus is accusing of loving money. He could be those who keep all they have even when they are surrounded by those who have not. He could be identifying those who support these man-created separations.
Abraham cannot “send Lazarus” to help the poor rich man now suffering. This separation must be fixed during our earthly tenure: the walls can only be crossed or removed in this life. Jesus is calling all his listeners to pay attention to the walls that exist in our world. How do we remove the walls between the haves and the have-nots? We, God’s children, have built these walls of separation between those who hold power and those who have no power? How do we remove the separation . . . or how do we cross them?
It is also interesting that the conversation in the story is not between God and the rich man, but between Father Abraham and the rich man. What does this mean? Is Jesus saying that we can’t wait for a miracle (Jesus) to set things right? Jesus through his death on the cross and resurrection destroyed the walls of separation. Sadly, evil is always repairing the walls: brick by brick and board by board. It takes a cross to remove the walls of separation that exist between people. It is not enough to wear the cross as a symbol, we must bear the cross of Jesus as we work to transform the world. When we step out in faith, we are filled with the power that comes through the Holy Spirit. We must take the risk, and we will be given everything we need.
We think too often of the power of the Spirit we have been given as an internal thing, an individual thing. Our salvation is about making sure that we are right with God. But what if we can’t be right with God unless we are right with people too? We are called to come together as a body of believers to save the lost, the meek, and the outcasts. All are worthy in God’s sight!
We, the United Methodist Church, proclaim that we are “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” What are we doing – we as individuals, of course, but we as a church more appropriately – to cross the boundaries that exist in our own communities, in our neighborhoods?
Did the rich man even see Lazarus? He saw him in the afterlife as a possible means of relief from his suffering; but did he see him there before laying at his gate? He was generous enough to not run Lazarus off, but did he really see him? Transformation begins with seeing. When we open our eyes through the lens of our hearts, to see the world as Jesus did, it is the beginning of accepting the power Jesus gave us to turn the world upside down or are we really just returning the world to right side up?
Closing Prayer: God, help us to say with Jeremiah, “The word of the LORD came to me.” I know this is the word of the Lord. God, your holy word invites us to place our trust in you. May the words we have heard here today, take root in our lives. May the words we have received in our hearts, strengthen us to live more boldly in faith, that we may trust you in disaster and boon, in good times and bad, in death and in life. “The word of the LORD came to me.” I know this is the word of the Lord.