Updated: Oct 2, 2019
“[He] longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table.” Luke 16:21
Where is the good news in this story? The task of a preacher is to find good news in e v e r y Bible reading for the ones gathered to listen. Sometimes that is easy. Not today.
Today we have what looks to be obvious good news for the poor man, Lazarus. His earthly life was wretched – oozing sores and all. His afterlife was the opposite – full of comfort, standing at a place of honor and acclaim. This is good news for those whose life is full of oppression, violence, injustice, hunger and overall wretchedness. In the afterlife you will be satisfied, full of joy and peace. Eventually things will be better.
In the afterlife, the rich man lies in torment after an earthly life of comfort and excess. If we need to find good news for everyone, what do we do for the rich man and his living brothers? What is the good news for those who find themselves most like rich ones in this story? Could it be that there is still time?
The brothers can change. How would the story change if the rich man shared his food, bound up Lazarus’ wounds, and gave him a place in the rich man’s household? If we can change our story, or, at least the way we play our part of the story - there is hope. The good news is Jesus inviting us into a new story and a distinctive way of living this life reflecting Jesus’ kind of love.
Okay, feeling pretty good - we have good news for those who see themselves as Lazarus and the rich ones. What about Abraham? Is there good news for him? Does he need it? Both the rich man and Lazarus are, I think it is safe to assume, children of Abraham? Yet there he stands beside the fixed, unbreachable chasm in the afterlife.
While in relative comfort, Abraham is unable to change the lot of the rich man in agony, the foolishness and harm of the un-listening brothers, nor is Abraham able to ease Lazarus’ earthly suffering. Abraham is stuck, unable to change the big, binary story of life and death, of rich and poor, and good and evil.
The poor may have hope in a better afterlife and the comfortable (rich) may be able to change how they treat the poor, but who will save us all from unbreacheable chasms that divide us. Who will save us from a system that simply reverses the places of comfort and agony, rich and poor?
It is disappointing to read this parable with its low expectations. Lazarus at the gate only imagines satisfying his hunger with crumbs from the rich man’s table. Why not long for life where basic needs are met? The rich man in flames simply longs for a drip of water from Lazarus’ finger – why not ask for forgiveness and restoration – rescue from the torment? And Abraham, instead of standing there accepting that things are what they are – why not appeal to God to find a better way?
Jesus is that better way.
This is big, good news – good news for everyone! Jesus tears down the system of simple reversals of situation and circumstance. Jesus is our hope, the one who will save us from ourselves. It is as one of my seminary professors often repeated, the good news is that through Jesus’ “grace shatters the vicious cycle of human nature.” We cannot save ourselves, so God intervenes and finds a better way. God, once again, exceeds our expectations.
What does “good news” look like for you, your community, and the world? What are your hopes and expectations for God?
Thank you so much for reading. I am writing this week as Bishop Mike recovers from his recent time in the hospital. Please join me in praying for him as his health improves.