JHullingerThe Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Father Jon Hullinger
Luke 16:19-31

Today’s Gospel is a parable, a prophecy and a problem.

It is a parable among a number of parables we have in Luke’s Gospel. Two weeks ago we had the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Last week Pastor George preached to us on the parable of the Dishonest Steward. This week’s Gospel lesson is commonly referred to as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

There are around 40 of Jesus parables recorded in the Gospels and Lazarus is the only character in any of Jesus’ parables who is given a name. I have never found an explanation for why this is the case so I guess that means I free to make something up. And that is exactly what I intend to do today.

So, let’s see, maybe the poor man is given a name so that we don’t miss the important point Jesus is trying to make. In the other parables we can usually identify with any and all of the characters at some point in our lives. Take for example perhaps the most familiar of all the parables: The parable of the prodigal son. Like the prodigal son I am sure we have all felt the need for forgiveness at some point. In my case it’s happens almost hourly but that’s beside the point. Like the loving Father we have all been called to forgive and understand others who have hurt or betrayed us and returned to us to say they were sorry. And I don’t know about you but, like the older son, I have at times felt cheated and neglected and put out when I see people get by with something or let of the hook too easily.

Perhaps Jesus gives the poor man, Lazarus at the gate, a name so that we won’t be tempted to identify ourselves with him and think the lesson we are suppose to learn from this story is for everyone else. The poor man has a name and it not ours. But, if we are not to identify with Lazarus then, I guess we are to see ourselves in the rich man.

Now I know what you are thinking …. What makes me think we are the rich man? Rich is a relative term. If we compare ourselves with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, then I guess we are all Lazarus and this parable is best applied to someone else and really has nothing to say to us. However, compared to all of those living below the poverty line who would give anything to have just a little of what we have or even simply what we waste every year we probably are the rich man in this story. And that’s not really such Good News for us.

But, maybe the poor man is named Lazarus because this parable was also a prophecy.

Remember, the Gospels are not a play by play description of the events in the life of Christ as they were unfolding. They were all written years after Jesus passion, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus’s telling of the parable and Luke’s written account of the same event would have been at least 30 or 40 or more years apart. The name of Lazarus would have meant nothing really to those who first heard the parable – except possibly ‘God is my help’ which is what Lazarus, the Greek form of the Hebrew name Eleazar actually means.

However, to those who first heard Luke’s Gospel the name would have been very familiar. Because while it is true that the Lazarus in this parable is not the Lazarus in John’s Gospel, the brother of Martha and Mary that Jesus raised from the dead; it is also highly unlike that years later when Luke wrote his Gospel and others heard it they didn’t all immediately think of the Lazarus whom Jesus did raise from the dead. They would have heard of him and what had happened to him and may have even known him personally and perhaps even worshiped with him in those early days of the church.

Maybe Jesus used the name Lazarus so that later when he would raise Lazarus people would remember the parable and the prophecy and be haunted by the words of Abraham, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should be raised from the dead,” and be among the many Jews, John tells us, who had come with Mary and Martha and seen what Jesus did and believed. Maybe it was all for them… So that they could receive the gift of faith and believe.

And that’s the problem. We know, in whatever way we try to interpret it, this is still a parable and a prophecy and a problem for us. Because….

We are being asked to identify – not with a Lazarus who gets home free or with the rich man who has no hope – rather we are to identify with the five brothers (and if he would have had any sisters) for whom there is still time left and a real hope of redemption… And to ask ourselves what do we need to learn … What miraculous thing do we need to see …. To become more like Christ and be the people he has called us to be.

That’s why I really think Jesus intended Lazarus, the poor man who dies outside the gate, to represent himself. The God who is our help. The risen one we can all come to know and to love …. or reject. The prophecy is referring to Jesus as the Christ and to his resurrection and not Lazarus and his resuscitation.

Today we are challenged, because of the gift of faith that we have received, to realize that we are the ones who can be instructed by Moses and the prophets, receive our risen Lord in the Eucharist, and come to actually “see” and ‘respond’ to the beggar at our gates.

This parable then, is not only a word for those of us left behind to “warn us so that we will not also come into this place of torment” as Lazarus pleads, but this parable also becomes an invitation and a call to action. An invitation to see the risen Lord in everyone at our gates and a call to action to use all we have to help everyone of our bother and sisters in Christ. In Lazarus at the gate, Christ is present and waiting for us, giving us once again another chance to imitate him in loving God our Father first and our neighbor as our self. And, to live with him and all his saints forever but not only in the hereafter but here right now.

When we can see with the eyes of faith that the poor are our only hope and our last best chance; we get a parable, a prophecy and a problem is solved … in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.