Luke 16: 19-31
The one side-effect or even shadow side of our addiction to the capitalistic culture which consumes us on all levels and aspects of our lives, is that it’s opened the door for us to demonize the poor. It becomes easy to blame them for their own problems and somehow believe that they are envious of others and simply want to be rich. It’s the crazy stuff that we tell ourselves and what our culture tells us. Yet, all it does is, in the words of Jesus today, is create this chasm that seems to grow wider and wider. Really, though, the more we separate ourselves from the poor we separate ourselves from the interior poverty of our soul that always seems to long for the fill of the pod. The external reality of separation of rich and poor is a reflection of the chasm that often exists within our own lives and souls, when we demonize that part of us and try to fill it with something other than God.
But here’s the thing. There is that longing for more in our lives that makes us all the same, whether rich or poor or anyone in between. It’s how we fill that desire for more that often determines the quality of our lives, which brings us to this Gospel today. It should be hard for us to hear today as it was for the Pharisees to whom Jesus is addressing it. Last week we heard the story of the steward and today the rich man and Lazarus, but in between the two are a few verses that describes the reaction of the Pharisees. Luke tells us that they love money and that they are growing weary of this Jesus and the threat that he seems to be bringing to their lives and this perceived power, especially through their love of money as Luke tells us.
So this is where Jesus picks up and begins to turn things on their head. Keep in mind that this is the continuation of the mercy parables of Luke’s gospel so it is first and foremost about who God really is. It’s also important to remember, that like many people today, there was this belief that somehow the more riches and stuff I had the more I was in favor with God. We even use that language about our wealth and belongings! If we believe that, we miss the point and are off mark on God. So the reversals begin at the start of the story. The one who would have been known by name because of his status and wealth becomes nameless and yet the one who is poor and has nothing, living out of his poverty, becomes named, Lazarus. Right from the beginning the pharisees would start to squirm.
But then there’s also the reversal of fortune. The pharisee thinks, thinks, that he is “living in heaven” because of his wealth, not only because of his status but because of his accumulation of wealth. But in the end, it’s him that his tormented. The more he separates himself from the man sitting outside his door, the more he tries to fill his pocket with wealth. His own deep longing is being separated from his life and the external world, and so as much as he thinks he’s “living in heaven” it’s really an experience of hell. He’s not living from the place of poverty but from his place of wealth. Jesus isn’t trying to scold him in some way. Rather, he’s inviting him to recognize his own poverty and to live from that place which can never be filled by what we consume but only by allowing ourselves to be consumed by God. It’s the novel of the story and to begin to recognize that Lazarus is me and Lazarus is you.
If we find ourselves demonizing in some way the poor and blaming them for our problems, well, the reality is, it says more about me than it does them and the chasm only grows wider and deeper in our lives. The story is not meant to spook us or even distress us, unless we have become blinded by our own wealth and stuff that we have accumulated. All that does is leave us with a false sense of security and something we can hold onto. Jesus, today, is inviting us to allow these realties to reflect one another, that by the way we treat others, in particular the poor, we are moving to a place where we can be more in touch with our own poverty and to begin to live our lives from the place.
There is nothing that is ever going to fill that longing and that desire for more in our lives. Yet, the entire capitalistic culture is rooted int that very reality so I can tell myself that I can’t live without something. It’s rooted in our weakness into fearing that place of poverty within ourselves, the Lazarus within ourselves, and the more I separate myself from the longing in my soul, the more I feel like I need something to fill it. It’s never going to be filled by something. We can consume all we want and the chasm grows. What we’re called to do is as it is with the Pharisees, to accept that that’s who we are, that there is this longing and desire for more within me. Rather than consuming ourselves allow ourselves to be consumed, not by the culture, but by the One who creates the longing, the God of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The more we do, the more we no longer need to feed the rich man but rather accept that Lazarus is me and Lazarus is you, and then, and only then, will our lives be rich and fulfilled.