Our Gospel text for today is a hard text, especially for those of us who live in the 1st world. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus clearly sets out for us God’s “preferential option for the poor.” This is a theme which is particularly prevalent in the Gospel of Luke. Take note of these examples: Mary’s Song from Luke 1:53 - …He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty…” From Jesus’ first sermon in Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…” The “Blessings and Woes” from the Sermon on the Mount, in Luke 6:20-26 – “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled… But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry…”
And this Sunday we come to the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus where Jesus makes the same point. And, let’s be clear, Jesus is not spiritualizing poverty in Luke. The Gospel is clearly talking about the economically poor and rich. In short, he is talking about us, and we are on the rich man’s side of this story. But we are not rich, we might protest. Well, I suppose that depends on what scale you use to judge that. The fact is that those of us living in the United States are much better off than millions others around the world. I found this really interesting web site called – The Global Rich List. When you go there you simply enter your income into the box and it tells you, in comparison to the rest of the world, how many in the world are richer than you and how many are poorer. I did it and discovered that I am in the top 97% of the richest people in the world; and that I am the 58,252,719th richest person in the world. I encourage you to stop by there and try it out.
So what does this mean for us? First, we need to remember that, as we confess weekly, “we are captive to Sin (I actually prefer the old LBW wording: We are in bondage to Sin and cannot free ourselves…). Our wealth is a sin and a stumbling block for us. But, we are forgiven and saved by Grace! And being saved by the grace of God calls us to respond to God’s gift, not by going along as usual living a wasteful and indulgent lifestyle, but to take stock of our resources, and how we use them and how we live. How do we use the blessings which God has given to us?
Lastly this parable raises another issue which I think is particularly important. The rich man feasts sumptuously, Lazarus begs at the door. Now, the rich man in this parable is never mean, or cruel to poor Lazarus; he does not do anything to make Lazarus’ life harder. The rich man ignores Lazarus. For the rich man, the beggar Lazarus is invisible; the rich man pays no attention to his plight; the rich man is apathetic. This is an issue for us as well, isn’t it? How many of us are like the rich man in this way? Ignoring the plight of those in need around us or, worse, coming up with all kinds of reasons why those who are poor are not worthy of our consideration. Whether it is the images of the poor and starving in different places in the world or those who struggle here in our own community, it is easy for us to become hardened or de-sensitized to their plight. This parable calls upon us to be aware of this and recognize that we do have a responsibility to care for and reach out in different ways to those who are in need.
See also Dylan Lectionary Blog for this Sunday - http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2004/09/proper_21_year_.html