So here's the 'church' version:
Rich man and Lazarus
(Luke 16:19-31 1 Timothy 6:6-19)
Jesus talks about a division between rich and poor. We know before we even listen to the news or read our papers that there is a huge gap between the poor of this word and the rich: in education, in life-expectancy, in health.. and so on. What should we do about this gap – ignore it? Thank God we’re on the right side of it? Or act.. and if so, how?
In the letter to Timothy, Paul warns that those who are rich should be rich in good works. Particularly in this season of Autumn and harvest festivals, we remember to give thanks to God for all the riches we enjoy and in many places we combine that with some sort of charity giving to those who are less fortunate – the poor in this country or in others. So we have gifts here for the Cambridgeshire food bank, and opportunities at the harvest supper to make some money to help the people of Zimbabwe, and all through September we have been collection for the aid agencies in Pakistan.
We know how lucky we are here in Whittlesford – the harvest yield may have been lower this year, (rain at the wrong times, I’m told) and I know these are uncertain financial times for many people - but none of us will starve. We are rich and we need to be rich in generosity.
Maybe in being generous to others we can avoid the fate of the un-named rich man, who finds, in Jesus’ story, that in the after-life the division between rich and poor is continued, but now with the boot on the other foot.
It is the poor man, Lazarus, who gets named, and who gets the prime spot alongside Abraham, but the rich man is in torment – and in the story is anonymous.
Finally the poor get their reward, but the selfish rich are punished. And all the Socialists said ‘Amen’. And all the givers to charity said ‘Phew!’. And all the higher rate tax-payers are ready to tell Father Abraham that paying tax really does count as giving to the poor.
Whatever our political leanings, we often operate according to the I’m OK/ You’re OK school of thought. You may know the theory : it’s called transactional analysis – the idea that each of us operates in a matrix: I’m OK, or not OK – You’re OK, or not OK. This leads to 4 different states. If we feel we are equal to another person, we may behave as if I’m OK & you’re OK. This makes relationships very easy. But where there are inequalities of status or money or opportunities in life, I may be OK – but you are not OK: or maybe You’re OK & I feel inferior – I’m not OK.
The rich man on earth is in the I’m OK – you (Lazarus) are not OK box.
Lazarus at the side of Abraham may well feel at last I’m OK & you (rich man) are not OK.
The ultimate goal of our psychological well-being is to get to the state where we can say I’m OK, you’re OK.
But Jesus is not telling this story to tell us how the after-life really will be – lakes of fire, great gulfs, suffering or peace. Jesus seems to want to get us thinking about how we relate as rich and poor here & now. If only the rich man had known he would have acted differently. If only Lazarus would warn his brothers, they would act differently.. but Jesus says ‘if they do not believe Moses and the prophets they will not believe, even if someone should rise from the dead’.
Luke’s gospel is reaching crisis point – Jesus will be the one who is killed and will rise – and even then, some will not believe.
Jesus warns us that we will never reach the Utopian ideal when we can say, either psychologically or materially “We’re all OK – I’m OK, you’re OK”. The kingdom of God is not about creating level playing fields for all – it is about trusting and believing in the God who look at us and says ‘You’re not OK – but you’re loved’. Although the rich and powerful, or the weak and gullible of this world will take Jesus and see him crucified, God’s love could not be defeated. The resurrection shows us God’s solution to the ‘Not OK-ness’ of the human condition – to promise the hope of God’s grace and power.
Now I realize that there’s a danger here – that we become complacent & say ‘since we will never make life OK – let’s not bother. That isn’t what Jesus is saying either. Clearly the rich man in the story is punished for just that sort of ‘don’t care’ attitude towards the poor. Jesus calls us to seek fairness, to work to break down divisions, to be mindful of the weaker voices in our world.
At harvest we should give thanks for all that God gives us – and pledge ourselves to care for our world as best we can.
But most of all Jesus calls us to remember that this is God’s world – and that only God’s love can ultimately heal us of all that is not OK. So may we be open to God’s grace in all our lives – to enable us to live as people who are grateful for what we have, determined to care for the marvellous world God has made, and resolved to trust in God’s strength to help us to live as those who are rich in good works. To God’s praise and glory. Amen.