There is a chasm between the rich and the poor – Luke 16:19-31 – September 29, 2019 by Will Rima
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O God our rock and redeemer. Amen.
There once was an extremely poor man named Lazarus that sat outside a rich man’s gated housing. In this parable, the poor man is given a name, but the rich man is known as such. Scholars have attributed the Latin name of “Dives” to the rich man. “Dives” was probably some type of royalty because he dressed in purple clothing which indicates high status. The rich man was well fed too. On the other hand, it happens that the poor man was destitute. He was starving, and he was in poor health. It seems that the local dogs were the only beings that loved him. They licked Lazarus’ sores, in care of him. The wealthy man or “Dives” completely ignored Lazarus. He didn’t mistreat Lazarus. His sin was one of omission. He didn’t pay attention to Lazarus, sitting at his gate in a miserable state. All Lazarus wanted was the scraps from the rich man’s table to eat. Suddenly, both the rich man and Lazarus die. The rich man “Dives” was buried, but Lazarus was carried away by angels to Abraham. There was probably no one to bury Lazarus so it was for the best that the angels carried him away to Abraham. It turns out that Lazarus was taken to Abraham’s Bosom, which is basically paradise, and “Dives” wound up in Hades being tormented. This version of the afterlife comes from the apocryphal 1st century writing of 2 Esdras 7:36: “The pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of hell shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight.” So, the rich man seeing Abraham and being in torment tries to convince Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water on his fingertip to cool his tongue. If it were me, I would have asked for a gallon, but in the rich man’s situation he probably didn’t want to press his luck and hoped for mercy from Lazarus. Maybe Lazarus might bring a cup of water. Maybe Lazarus might bring a cup of water. As I was pondering this gospel passage, I noticed that the rich man didn’t speak directly to Lazarus in life or even in the afterlife. In the afterlife he asked Abraham to send Lazarus, as though Lazarus were still below him. There is something seriously wrong with that. Abraham was like, “No way! The roles are reversed now.
Lazarus is now in paradise while you are in agony.” And he said, “Besides there is a great chasm between you and us. We can’t go over there, and you can’t come over here.” All of a sudden, the rich man finds some compassion in his heart for his brothers. He asks father Abraham, because he is some relation to him, to send Lazarus back to warn his living brothers to be compassionate to the poor, otherwise they’ll end up in torment too. Father Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets.” But the rich man wouldn’t have it. He thought that if his brothers saw Lazarus come back from the dead and he encouraged them to care for the poor, they would listen. But, Abraham said, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they won’t listen to Lazarus either.” Our good news passage for today is a parable, and I think the center of gravity of this parable is not that it is an accurate description of the afterlife, because I don’t think that it is, but it is the great chasm that exists between “Dives” and Lazarus. There was a great chasm between them in life and, also, in the afterlife. The rich man never spoke directly to Lazarus in both life and death. The rich man completely ignored Lazarus, even though he knew his name. There was a great chasm, indeed.
Abraham told the rich man that his brothers had Moses and the prophets to help eradicate the chasm between them and the poor. Even the rich man had Moses and the prophets at one time too. That’s all fine and dandy, but what are some of the things that Moses and the prophets actually say and command to close that chasm between the rich and the poor? Let’s take Moses first. Some scholars believe that Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Bible, and in the 5th book, Deuteronomy, it’s written “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” Imagine if “Dives” listened to this and carried it out. That would have closed the chasm between he and Lazarus. What about the prophets? What do they say?
The prophet Isaiah pleads with Judah to “learn to do good seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan plead for the widow.” Zechariah commands: “do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” The prophet Amos declares, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Similarly, Micah says, “He has told you. O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” So, most of the prophets are declaring justice for the poor. Take care of the poor. Abraham was right. “Dives’ brothers did have Moses and the prophets to help close the chasm between them and the poor.
As I was working on my sermon for this week, I stumbled upon a short story of one of the commentators. He writes, “I remember visiting the White House for the first time in the early 1980s. A friend who lived in D.C. drove me there at night. I could not appreciate the splendor of the White House because of the many people wrapped in dirty blankets who lay sleeping at the base of the iron gates; the contradiction and contrast was depressing and heartbreaking. The White House, home of the president of the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the world, responds to poor people by ignoring them or rendering them invisible.” As we can see the Chasm between the rich and the poor exists still today. Poor homeless people are ignored by the wealthy. It seems that when one cares about their wealth too much, they have no compassion for the needy. We don’t have to be extremely rich to not care for the poor. Just being in the state of living comfortably can create a great chasm between the “haves” and the “have nots”. However, being rich or comfortable doesn’t mean that we are sinners, but it’s what we do with our wealth that can make us sinners. Do we help those in need, or do we ignore them like “Dives” did to Lazarus? What do you do when you see a homeless person on the street? Do you ignore them? Sometimes, I do. It’s not always easy to approach people that are experiencing homelessness. Many things go thru our mind why we shouldn’t acknowledge the poor on the streets. Things like I don’t have the time to really help this person; I don’t have the money or resources to help this person; or that person probably makes $100,000 a year begging for money; they don’t need my help; or that person is just lazy; they need to get a job; I’m not going to help them until they help themselves; or it looks like that person doesn’t want to be bothered. The chasm presents these reasons to us, so we don’t acknowledge the poor among us. The chasm itself prevents us from interacting with our poor sisters and brothers on the streets.
Like the rich man, “Dives,” we also have Moses and the Prophets. In addition, we have Jesus Christ and the Gospel too. That’s great, but what are some of the messages and commands that the gospel and Jesus say to us that help close the chasm between the rich and the poor. The gospel writer Luke tells us what Jesus said about giving a banquet –that when we have a banquet that we should invite the poor, crippled, and lame. Jesus tells us and his disciples in the gospel of Mark that we will always have the poor with us, and we can show kindness to them whenever we want. The gospel writer Matthew records Jesus’ sermon on the mount where is declares that the poor are blessed. And Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew if you wish to be complete go sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me. Jesus wants us to break down the chasm between the rich and the poor. He wants us to at least acknowledge the poor as human beings and God’s children. The next time you encounter a person experiencing homelessness, stop and say “hello.” Introduce yourself and ask their name. They are people just like you and me. Cross the chasm that exists between you and them. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to love one another. Share that peace and love with the poor and needy. Take the time to acknowledge them and hear their story. Help them if you can. There are some resources available in the community. Find out what they are, so you can steer them towards the resources. Any help is better than no help. Remember Lazarus? He had no help and he was ignored. God helps us to overcome the chasm because with God, all things are possible. Amen.