19 Pentecost—21-C-Track 2
September 25, 2016
Amos 6:1a,4-7, Psalm 146, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31
Early on in his ministry people listening to Jesus would say, where does this fellow get all this? He’s the carpenter’s son, not the rabbi’s son, right? Matthew 13:55
Well, it’s easy to guess where he gets his material for today’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus: first of all, he gets it from experience. Walking around in first century Palestine Jesus sees vast income inequality. And it is just as hard for the rich of his day, as it is for the rich of our day, to give up their money to help impoverished people who can never pay you back and who probably may continue in their destructive habits anyway.
Second, Jesus also read the prophets of Israel, like Amos who prophesied around 750 BC and proclaimed God’s judgment on the rich who ignored the suffering of the poor and how that was destroying Israel that is called to be a light to the nations. He spoke almost 3000 years ago, but his words still sting:
Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;
who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of our nation!
One scholar said that if you like Amos you obviously haven’t understood him! The only people who could like Amos are those who think he is talking only about those bad rich people back then, or those fat cats over on Wall Street, and not about themselves. Only those who focus their attention on the speck in their neighbor’s eye and are blind to the log in their own can like these attacks.
We may not have beds with inlaid ivory but we have beds, and Amos has a word for us, if we don’t use our wealth to help those sleeping on cardboard we are violating God’s vision for us.
Jesus grows up listening to the prophets being read in Synagogue and he is formed into a person who not only notices the poor and their suffering, but also identifies with their suffering and seeks to relieve it.
Early on he learns to ask the suffering a central question: Where does it hurt?” He becomes a man capable of hearing the cries of his people and easing their pain.
Jesus tells his story about a rich man who ignores the suffering of Lazarus living outside his mansion: the rich man may see Lazarus with his eyes, but he doesn’t feel any compassion or responsibility to help him. He probably thinks it’s his own fault for being poor. He thinks to himself, “He probably has a drug habit and a history of bad decisions and if I give him money he’ll just go get high. It’s not my fault and it’s not my problem. I don’t need to know his name—he’s a nobody.”
Then, the tables are turned because Lazarus dies and goes to be with Abraham—to the bosom of Abraham it says in the Greek—a place of comfort and healing, but the rich man dies and goes to a place of suffering and torment.
This reminds us of the line from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “what you reap is what you sow.” Spend your life sowing seeds of greed and hardness of heart and you create for yourself a world of isolation and suffering.
I love the famous quote from Robert Louis Stevenson: “Sooner or later we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.”
We don’t get punished for our sins; rather we get punished by our sins.
Hopefully we learned as teenagers that if you treat people poorly you won’t have any friends to treat you well.
As adults it may take us longer to learn that greed and callousness may grow our bank account but they shrink our souls to the point that we lose contentment and community.
“Sooner or later, we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.”
So what does Jesus want us to do with this hard reality?
The nameless rich man who ends up in a hell of his own making wants us to go to his brothers and sisters to tell them what’s going to happen to them if they don’t change their ways.
But Abraham says God has already told them this truth in the law and the prophets: read a chapter in any of the 4 Major Prophets or the 12 Minor Prophets and you’ll see they are concerned with basically one fact: idolatry, that is worshipping a false conception of god, leads to injustice and suffering and finally to the destruction of the community.
Micah 6:8 famously puts it this way: Hear what Yahweh, the LORD, says:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does Yahweh require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?””
But the rich man says, “No father, but if someone goes to them from the dead they will repent!”
But Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets neither will they be convince even if someone rises from the dead.”
So what hope is there for folks who sleep on beds and do not grieve over the ruin of the poor in the land?
Jesus knows that just telling people to help the poor is not enough because our selfishness runs so deep.
As I said several weeks ago we can’t make significant changes in ourselves by trying harder.
Our only hope is to become apprentices of someone who knows how to live a life of compassion and community, and has the power to teach us and transform us.
We don’t need more trying—we need more training by Christ.
Here’s the thing: yes, “Sooner or later, we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.”
But this not only applies to the negative things we do in life.
It also applies to the positive things we do: as we let Jesus train us to live by grace under God’s reign, then our lives produce a banquet of good consequences that come from the heart of God.
As we live in the community of Christ and as we follow his guidance on how to stay connected to God and neighbor, we are formed into the kind of people who can practice the teaching we hear today from 1Timothy that tells us who are rich in the present age,
+”Not to be haughty,
+Not to set our hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God;
+And to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share
These are not laws we do to get into the kingdom, rather they are practices for those who are already in the Kingdom.
We become the kind of people who not only give food to the poor, but also eat with them as Jesus does: learning their names, and telling them ours.
Then we experience the banquet of the Kingdom that Jesus talks so much about: where we are taken hold of by the life that really is life.