The 15th Sunday of Trinity
There are no poor people in heaven, only “the spirits of righteous men made perfect”, as the the Letter to the Hebrews puts it. The parable of Dives and Lazarus in our Gospel reflection, says only what pious Jews of Jesus’ time believed anyway. We often say, parables are heavenly stories with an earthly meaning, so we need to ask, what that earthly meaning could be here.
So many people misunderstand the main themes of Jesus’ teaching: you can prove that easily by asking people, “Did Jesus often speak against sexual sin?” And I guess that most people’s perception is that he did, whereas in fact he didn’t. The main themes of his teaching are quite different, in fact money and wealth, figure much more prominently, as here, where we have, a stern warning about what happens when we let money take control of our lives. Money in itself, like most things, is neutral, neither good nor bad: it is what you do with it that shows what sort of a person you are. Consider, after all, the rich man (customarily named as Dives) in the story. The picture we are given is not directly one of waste or exploitation, it is of sheer mindless extravagance. The contrast with the poor man at the gate (Lazarus) could hardly be more acute. Covered in sores, he longs to be fed with the scraps from the rich man’s table, and, incidentally, that there is no suggestion that he actually even gets his hands on any of the scraps. This is a picture of abject human need meeting sheer mindless selfishness.
But then the tables are turned. Both men die, and judgement follows at once, the rich man going to Hades, the poor man going straightway to the joys of paradise. The rich man begs Abraham for mercy, for Lazarus to perform an act of charity for him and then to go and warn his brothers of the terrible fate that has befallen him. And Abraham replies, why bother – if only they have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, the message has already been delivered. The problem, of course, is that there’s none so blind as those that won’t see, and none so deaf as those that won’t hear.
Herein is the message of Jesus in a story with two morals. First, though it is no crime to be rich – it is not money that is evil, but the love of money, which turns it into a god, and second, what we do now will have eternal consequences, as Dives discovered.
Secondly, we shall be judged for what we do now, a truth that is not welcome to many ears today. Whilst few of us would want to sing that self-righteous soldiers’ song from the First World War “The bells of hell go ting a ling a ling for you but not for me”, we still need to be perpetually on our guard against attitudes that bring God down to our level, and assume that he really doesn’t mind what we get up to, in other words, that he is infinitely compliant!
What we do in this life is laying the foundations for the life of eternity. For Christians, the call is, in the midst of this world; where light and dark coexist, to be living the life of heaven now. No trimming of sails, no going for second best, for once the standards begin to slip, we are on a slippery slope. God in his goodness has given us so much, life and then new life in the waters of baptism. In return he calls us, in the power of the Spirit, to be the trail blazers of the new creation, free men and women, living generous lives, living lives that are Christ-like, in the knowledge that those who do so have the guarantee of joy forever in God’s kingdom.
Fr. Edward Bryant