then Lazarus laid him down and down
even down at Diverus' gate
some meat, some drink, brother Diverus
for Jesus Christ His sake
thou art none of mine, brother Lazarus
that lies begging at my gate
no meat, no drink I’ll give to you
for Jesus Christ His sake
So goes part of the lyrics of an English folk ballad known as “Dives and Lazarus,” which first appeared in the 1860s. Composer Ralph (RAIFF) Vaughn Williams wrote a piece for a harp and string orchestra called Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus. A quick search of your Google machine after church will net you all sorts of results for this music inspired by one of Jesus’ toughest parables, second only maybe to the parable of the shrewd manager we heard last week. And if you missed Cortney’s sermon on that, it’s available on our website and I’d encourage you to give it a listen. Last week he said you cannot serve God and wealth and Cortney reminded us that the word Jesus uses is MAMON, which is a form of greed that strikes right up against the commandment about coveting and the gain of more and more wealth at the expense of others.
In between last week’s Gospel lesson and this week’s, Jesus has a few words about the greed of the Pharisees and their lack of care for the poor and the vulnerable, which is at the heart of the laws of the Hebrew scripture. Of course in Scripture, the rich man in this parable has no name, but subsequent storytelling has named him Dives (DEE-VUS) since that is the Latin word for Rich.
In the midst of all his wealth, the Rich Man lost his ability to see those around him. He doesn’t seem to have lost his overall sight, but he has lost his ability to see. In Jesus’ telling of this, he and Lazarus don’t have any interaction until they are both dead. And once they are both in their respective eternal dwelling places, the Rich Man observes Lazarus with Abraham, but he still doesn’t see him. He certainly doesn’t see him as his brother, as a fellow child of God. He sees Lazarus right there with Abraham and still tells Abraham to get Lazarus to do his bidding. Lazarus is a poor, sick, beggar, someone beneath him, and his contempt manifests itself by him saying, “Tell Lazarus to stick his finger in some water to cool my tounge!” I’m willing to bet that Jesus’ listeners got the point, maybe even the Pharisees, to whom this story was directed. They knew the right thing to do even if they weren’t doing it.
It was the same attitude that the prophet Amos was preaching against about 780 or so years before Jesus. We hear a snippet of that preaching today. The irony of this passage is that it is directed to those in Jerusalem, which was the southern kingdom of Judah when 98.5% of the rest of Amos’ preaching was directed towards the northern Kingdom of Israel. It’s kind of like when your sibling is getting fussed at and your parent said, “And don’t think you’re so special pal!”
It’s part of the same issue that the Apostle Paul is dealing with when writting to Timothy in today’s epistle lesson. It’s not the dollar bills or the shekles that that are evil, it’s the unquenchable thirst at the expense of the vulnerable and poor that gets us into well deserved trouble. Why? Because we fail to see people, especially people in need.
At our Baptism, and every Baptism and Confirmation and on a few other occassions throughout the year, we make a promise to see beyond ourselves. We did this just last week at the 8:45 service and we will do it again in November. We commit, with God’s help to proclaim by word and example the Good of God in Jesus, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself, and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. That means we have to see beyond ourselves, beyond those who just look and think and believe and vote and do things the same ways we do, and we have to put our trust in God to help make that happen because God knows we can’t do it ourselves.
At Christ Church, we grow spiritually through worship, being together, and serving our community so we can go out into the world to love as God loves. That’s why we are here. That’s why we do what we do. I said those words in a sermon a couple of weeks ago and then again in a letter that went out to the parish with an invitation to make your pledge to the mission and ministry of Christ Church in 2020. And I said that I didn’t just make up those words; they came straight from the mission and vision statements adopted by the Vestry in 2017. We live into that “WHY” more fully when we are able to see others, to truely see them and not just look past them. We live into that WHY when we seek and serve Christ by helping the world see those whom our culture marks as “less than.” We love the way God loves when we see more people and all of creation. With God’s help, we can be rich in good works, as Paul wrote to Timoty, generous and ready to share so that we take hold of the life that really is life.
Alan Payton was a South African author, an anti-apartheid activist, and an active Anglican. He penned this prayer in the early days of his country’s struggle to end Apartheid:
O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the need of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor. Let me be not afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich. Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places. And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for you.
And let all God’s people say Amen.