St Luke 16: 19 – 31 ‘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.”’
Reflection: Must there always be…? There will always be rich and poor – both Lazarus and the rich man.
Rich and poor – it’s all relative, right? “I have more than those people, but these people have far more than me!” I wonder if we take comfort – even refuge – in knowing that ‘this is just the way of the world’.
It is the way of the world, but is it right? And should I accept it?
It seems, sometimes, that we almost romanticise ‘the poor’: ‘Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ – but I don’t see many of us rushing to give up what we have in order to inherit the kingdom.
We put a nice spin on reality: “Their suffering today is seen by God – but they will be blessed with an eternity of plenty (…so ultimately, all will be ok!)’ But, if that is such a comfort, would I – ‘the rich man’ – be prepared to swap places with Lazarus in anticipation of what is to come?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want ‘bad things’ – either in this life or the next. And, like the rich man, I am at pains to ensure the well-being of those I care about. Why, then, should I find any comfort in the thought that someone else’s ‘good things’ are awaiting in some future time? What about this time – the here and now? And isn’t everybody someone’s child/sibling/loved one? Why would I wish any differently for them NOW than I wish for me and mine? Surely being content for some people to wait for their blessing in eternity is to reconcile myself to perpetual injustice today.
Years ago, I fell in love with the Christian Aid slogan ‘We believe in life before death.’ What if we all actively embraced that belief and sought to live it into being? No more Lazarus and the rich man, but equal human beings, sharing the abundance which was always intended for all.
Prayer Ah, Bountiful God, How have we gone so wrong?
How do we take your plenty And turn it into over-abundance for some And scarcity for others?
Forgive us – But not without moving us To bring about real and lasting change.
For the sake of Lazarus, we pray, Amen.
Karen Campbell, URC Secretary for Global & Intercultural Ministries.