‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”’
I am writing in the week that The Guardian featured an article, World’s 26 richest people own as much as poorest 50%, says Oxfam. According to the report
In the ten years since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled.
Between 2017 and 2018 a new billionaire was created every two days.
Just 1% of the fortunes of the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.
It is tempting to read the parable – and Oxfam’s report – and for many of us to conclude, “I am not the rich one” (sometimes given the name ‘Dives’). We are likely to do so on the basis of bank balance. We might want to consider the challenge at the heart of this gospel passage: namely, that the problem for Dives was not so much his wealth but the realisation that he should have acted with greater grace but left it too late to do anything.
That sobering realisation – that sense of regret – may well be a regular experience for us: with hindsight we can see that we might have acted differently. It could just as easily be little to do with money but rather using our time and ordering our priorities more wisely. How often, for example, do we regret that we have allowed too many months or years to pass before being in contact with those whose company and care we say we value? How often do we wish we could turn back the clock and react differently in particular situations? Poor – yes, poor – old Dives learns the painful lesson that there comes a time when it is too late to put things right (or even to help others avoid making the same mistake). May God prevent us falling into the same trap!
Almighty God, source of everything we have and are, keep us alert to every opportunity to make life better or bearable for those we encounter. May the generosity of our words and deeds reflect your love made manifest in Jesus. Spare us from the regret of responding too meanly and too late and grant us a sense of urgency to play our part in transforming the world, our nation and community while there is yet time to do so. Amen.
The Rev’d Geoffrey Clarke, Minister, The Crossing (Methodist & United Reformed Church), Worksop and Wales Kiveton Methodist Church