Preached at Bushwick Abbey,
September 29, 2013
There is something familiar about this parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.
As we read through the gospel of Luke some of this should start to sound an echo.
This parable hits the same notes that are in the Magnificat, that are in the Beatitudes,
it is a melodic theme of this gospel:
the way the world looks to us and the way the world looks to God are not the same thing.
This is what we hear from the lips of Mary,
when she begins to glimpse where this encounter with an incarnate God will lead,
she sings out:
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
This parable is like a big expanded beatitude,
earlier we hear Jesus say:
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
but here he puts meat on the story.
This is so much of the gospel of Luke:
The rich are not safe and the poor are not lost.
This beggar is beyond repulsive and beyond unclean.
He is lying there in the filth; he has sores,
which the book of Deuteronomy goes on forever about.
If you have sores you are not ok.
You need to get them checked out by the priest
and only once the priest says you are clean and good to go
are you welcomed back into community.
This is not just a painful physical condition,
this an isolating and lonely experience.
I don’t think Deuteronomy even gets into dogs licking your wounds,
I’m sure that makes you so far unclean that you might never be welcomed back.
So this guy is about as far outside the ok as you can get.
And he is welcomed into the arms of Abraham.
We don’t hear that he has done anything to deserve it.
So this story is not about about the goodness of Lazarus,
It is about thirst
The rich man longs for nothing in life, and perhaps that is his curse.
The agonizing thirst of the rich man after death is the gift too late.
Had he been blessed with thirst in life he might have looked beyond himself
and seen larger thirsts than his.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst.
His need for connection and compassion,
his need for community and help comes after he has left the realm of helping and being helped.
But we still have the chance for our longings to bear fruit.
Our Longings can give shape to out lives,
our thirsts if well listened to can bring us to doorways
where the scraps of the table might feed us forever.
our hungers and our thirsts are turned toward justice.
If we feel the heartbreak of the world in our bones,
If we see all of humanity as just as beautiful and broken as ourselves,
then our thirst is not a curse but a gift.
I think what Abraham is trying to tell the rich man is that
the Miraculous will do us no good if we cannot be compassionate and generous.
It is of no use to send a poor man back from the dead
if we cannot believe that it is urgent to take care of the poor.
In the story the rich man finally gets it and asks for Lazarus to go tell his brothers what he now understands.
But Abraham says if they do not believe the law and the prophets,
which weigh so heavily on taking care of the oppressed,
the orphan the widow and the beggar,
then what can a man raised form the dead possibly tell them?
If you do not have a sense of justice and compassion;
if you do not treat the poor with dignity;
if you not care for the less pleasant members of society,
really what good will a miracle do you? asks Abraham.
But I don’t think this is a parable about miracles.
It is about longing.
And we are all beggars longing for something.
It is Jesus who says we get to go to his fathers house,
It is Jesus who says that we are inheritors of the life Eternal with and in him.
In Jesus we can know the kind of Joy that no one has ever deserved
The only catch is that we have to die to get it.
To follow Jesus is to die.
We die to ourselves, and the world, we die to separation from the love of God,
we die to the lie that we are only as as good as we act or look or earn.
But in this version of the story we go back.
We become little Lazaruses,
out in the world preaching the kind of good news
that those who have thirsted for compassion and tasted death know,
all of us who are brave enough to come to this story
and risk becoming like one who died and rose again.
Then we head back out those doors to tell all the brothers of the rich man
that thirst is the beginning,
longing is the key,
and we go to find our fellow beggars on the doorsteps
and feed them much more than scraps.