Lazarus and the Rich Man

LUKE 16:19-31

The Lord said, “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazaros, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazaros in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazaros to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazaros in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses, and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to them, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’

The story is telling us to: Take the opportunity to do good while you have it.

Lazarus is so hungry he “wants to eat the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table” – how hungry do you have to be to long for crumbs?

You have to be really vindictive to deny people the crumbs that you don’t need or want. We can easily understand the evil and dark-heartedness of denying food or material goods to people when we don’t need them for ourselves. And yet we also deny people many things that we ourselves don’t need.

That is what is going on when we are judging other people. You need compassion and understanding. You need empathy. You need the benefit of the doubt. But I won’t give it to you. I don’t gain anything by denying you that respect. But I am denying it to you anyway.

When we read today about the rich man denying Lazarus the poor man even the crumbs that fall of the table, we should consider that the crumbs do not just represent material things, they represent immaterial things as well.

When we read about bread in words spoken by Jesus, we should immediately think of communion: the bread of life. The crumbs that fall off the table are small pieces of communion. They are small every-day pieces of God’s love that we can give to people. They are the presence of God that people long and yearn for.

For example, the lady at the bank who isn’t so helpful. God can fill my heart with love for her so that I pray for her, silently, in my heart, instead of judging her. Even if she doesn’t deserve it, you can speak to her with respect and kindness. That is like giving the crumbs to Lazarus.

Or perhaps my child’s teacher at school. Maybe she’s too strict and gives your child too much homework – God can fill my heart with love for her so that I can tell her “thank you for all your hard work”. God shows us that like Lazarus, many of the people around us are hurting.

It’s easy to cut ourselves off from strangers. It is easy to feel that, “I don’t know this person, how much can I really bless them?”

Giving out these crumbs of the communion with God is the job of priests, and in the metaphorical sense I am describing today, we are all priests. This is the distribution of communion that belongs to the priesthood of all believers.

When we judge others, when we deny others respect, we are not only denying them something. We are denying ourselves the opportunity to embody that priesthood. We are setting aside our calling and our inheritance, and locking ourselves out of the Kingdom of Heaven.

But remember that Lazarus is hungry even for the crumbs on the floor. The strangers and half-acquaintances in our lives are starving for just a crumb of the love that God has given to us in our Christian faith. Even a crumb can be life-giving.

If I told you your salvation is to be found in serving others, you might go out and try to find someone to serve, and might end up heartbroken because there is so much suffering in the world and you are not able to significantly diminish it. You can work your whole life at serving those who suffer, and in the end, there will be just as many suffering people; more every day. Are you going to give every orphan a home? Are you going to feed every starving person? If you look at the suffering in the world you will learn that you have no power.

You have no power, but God does have power.

When did we see God at his most powerful? What is the most powerful thing God has done? Dying on the cross. That is the glorious power of God: the powerlessness and weakness of a love which is steadfast and so powerful that it can recreate the world.

The power of Jesus is his trust in the Father. Jesus trusts his Father and he loves us, and so he dies and breaks down the iron gates of hell.

We are all the rich man, and we need the poor man Lazarus. When we trust in God, when we learn to love our neighbour we become powerful in the way that God is powerful. We gain the power of love.

The name Lazarus (originally Eleazar) means “God helps.” Who did God want to help? He wanted to help the rich man, so he sent him Lazarus.

God wants to help you, which is why he sends you people in your life that are difficult, hurting and dysfunctional, infuriating and pathetic and needy; people who are blind and deaf to their own misery and the misery of others; people who want something from you but seem to have nothing to give you. God is helping you by giving you someone like that to love and serve.

Lord Jesus Christ, our God, you are sitting outside my gate, asking for a crumb from my table. Give me a watchful and loving heart so that I do not pass you by. Help me to receive the gift of the wounded people around me, and to find the Kingdom of Heaven.

Amen.