March 14, 2021
Luke 16: 19-31
During recent weeks, some local advocates for the homeless have taken to social media to voice their criticism of a downtown property owner who erected a plastic mesh barricade at the entrance of a vacant building.
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It seems that homeless people had been sheltering in the entranceway at this busy downtown location. With the barricade in place, the homeless would have to venture somewhere else for protection from the weather or to wait and hope for the assistance of passersby.
The advocates lamented that the barricade forces the homeless out of public view and reduces the visibility of the homeless crisis in the area.
To these advocates, it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.
I bring this up not to debate the property owner’s rights to erect such a barricade, but to underscore the questions of What do you see? and What do you do with what you see? that are present in today’s passage from Luke.
Today, Jesus continues to deal with grumbling Pharisees and scribes.
Just before today’s reading, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for being “lovers of money.” He has expended a lot of effort and time to get them to recognize that the economy of being in right relationship with God and with other people is different than the economy they have practised.
Luke’s parable today shows the different outcomes for the two economies and seeks to change people’s perspectives.
The wealthy man lives an abundant life … he feasts three times a day. He wears expensive purple robes and lives in a fine home behind a wall that separates his life from the realities of the world.
On the other side of the wall, Lazarus lives a life of pain and scarcity … all within sight of wealth and abundance.
Lazarus is so hungry that he dreams of being nourished by the scraps from the wealthy man’s table. Covered with sores, his only comfort comes when dogs lick the wounds … something that passersby would see as degrading.
With this parable, Jesus calls listeners to view the world from different vantage points.
The rich man can witness the world beyond the walls and gateway that have been erected … watching the problems and activity from the safety that privilege affords.
Lazarus, on the other hand, can see the rich man’s estate … watch the daily activity aimed at maintaining and growing the man’s wealth … all the while wondering if he’ll be able to find food and shelter for the day.
Maybe … while he lies at the gates … Lazarus wonders what it would take to be noticed … and wonders what it would take for help to be offered.
The gate could have been a public site where compassionate judgement for the vulnerable could be practiced and witnessed. Instead, the gate was the site of a dehumanizing scene.
When the two men die, Lazarus is carried away by angels and the wealthy man is, we can assume, carried away by family members and religious authorities to be given the proper and lavish ceremony and buried.
The men remain separated by a chasm … a gulf between their circumstances.
They find themselves in two distinctly different locales … Lazarus is embraced and comforted by Abraham, the father of the nations, while the wealthy man is in agony in Hades.
Their roles on earth have been reversed in the world to come … “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus had taught earlier.
The wealthy man still doesn’t understand his new reality … the old way of looking at the world frames his perceptions … he expects Lazarus to serve him and ease his suffering on his side of the gulf that now separates them. He still carries a sense of privilege … of entitlement.
Abraham refuses the request … the wealthy man had his opportunity during his time on earth
The rich man pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus back with a warning for his family, so that they don’t end up on the wrong side of the chasm. Abraham refuses and says that there are plenty of guideposts for the brothers and sisters to follow … to live into God’s expectations.
In looking at today’s reading, scholar John Carroll wrote:
“The mandate for compassionate generosity is not Jesus’ innovation; it is at the heart of Scripture.”
… the heart of Scripture.
Abraham reminds the wealthy man that he … like his brothers … have Moses, the prophets and Scripture to guide them through life. If their hearts aren’t open to following these instructions for living with compassion, sending Lazarus to warn them would be pointless … worse they would be acting out a sense of self-preservation rather than out of love and empathy.
We have these same stories … the same lessons about God’s economy and how it contrasts with the economy of the world. Like the Pharisees, scribes and the others in the crowd around Jesus, we are called to consider how we view the world and called to view it from others’ perspectives … a perspective anchored in hunger, suffering, marginalization and isolation.
I think it’s pretty telling that … despite his wealth and status on earth …. the wealthy man isn’t named, but the poor man is called by name. On earth, there is little doubt that wealth made the man well-known within the community … most people would know his name.
In this parable, Jesus gives the poor a name … an identity.
In fact, the wealthy man asks Abraham to have Lazarus bring him some relief from the thirst he endures in Hades. In other words, the wealthy man witnessed the nearby hunger and suffering was seen … and ignored it.
After all, Lazarus wasn’t hidden behind some brush or under a bridge … he was visible along a well-travelled route from the wealthy man’s home.
Today’s parable is designed to bring change … it offers profound summons to see things differently … and through this change in perspectives … bring change to the world.
Today’s parable … like the other stories we’ve heard from Luke during recent weeks … bring focus on the need for repentance …
We … like the rich man’s brothers … have time … to offer repentance … a time to recognize the gulf between seeing and doing. It’s a time to reorient our lives toward seeing those at the gate … naming the things that get in the way of ministering to others.
By doing this, we are living into the grace we have received.
As we move toward Jerusalem with Jesus, we have an opportunity to consider what we
do see? Does our view extend beyond the walls of privilege?
Just as importantly, what do the poor … the homeless … the people who would inhabit a downtown doorway see?
Do they see and experience acts of compassion … grace-filled and grace-led acts … or do they see barricades and walls as they lie at the gates wondering when comfort will come?
Do they see us?