It’s the greatest happening in human history. Yet, some toss it aside like a bad-tasting carrot. But a bad carrot it’s not. It’s a good carrot. Good for the eyes, as my mother used to tell me about eating my carrots. It’s good for the body and good for the soul. It’s good for the entire person. What is it? Someone rising from the dead. And, if it can happen once, it can happen again.
We get the name of the poor man in our Lord’s parable. Lazarus. Jesus must have asked Lazarus from Bethany, the brother of Martha & Mary, if he didn’t mind if he used his name in a story of someone rising from the dead. An event in which Lazarus from Bethany would be very familiar with. “Lazarus, come out!” So, Lazarus from Bethany said to his good friend Jesus, “Sure, Lord. Use my name if it brings people home to heaven, and how to get there.”
On the other hand, the rich man is … the rich man. With no name. I suspect Jesus wasn’t too chummy with any rich men at this point in his ministry. But we further suspect that our Lord wasn’t into using people’s names in ways that would cause others to walk away from him. He always used people’s names in a way that showed their dignity as a child of his heavenly Father. Thus, he’s the rich man, and not George or Harry, whom Jesus is trying to personally embarrass. God doesn’t stoop that low.
So, what we have in this parable are two names; Lazarus, and the rich man. One known, the other unknown. Also, one silent, for Lazarus in the parable speaks not a word. And, one who talks a lot, begging Abraham to do something he cannot do. Something reserved for God alone; welcoming a soul into heaven.
And in the parable what we have at stake are some pre-resurrection issues. The issues of neglect, intentional avoidance (“I know you’re at my front step, Lazarus, but I don’t see you”); the issue of the material goods of the world, and how they can blind a human soul, preventing us from acts of love; and, the issue that “You Lazarus, don’t even exist in my world.”
Let’s admit it; it’s very difficult to believe that the rich man doesn’t see Lazarus sitting at his front door every day. But he likely doesn’t see him. Because if he did, he would have Lazarus removed by a couple henchmen. “Get that poor beggar out of here! Remove his carcass from my step!” But no. There’s no removal of Lazarus, because he really doesn’t see him. Lazarus is a non-entity; a zero; a nothing. How can anyone be so blind? Is that even possible? When’s the last we entered our home, and there was a poor person sitting at our front step, and we didn’t see them? I guess it’s possible, according to how Jesus tells the parable.
Even though it’s a parable, a story Jesus put together, we can be certain there are people who live like the unnamed rich man. It’s a real person somewhere. Otherwise, Jesus wouldn’t waste his breath telling the story.
So, our Lord does tell the story, with an emphasis on neglect and avoidance, and how as Christians we are to avoid neglect and avoidance in our faith lives, which is all the time. Is there anything that makes us more uncomfortable, or feel like we’re at the bottom of our humanity, than when we intentionally avoid someone in need? I can say firsthand there’s nothing I can think of, because I’ve done that. I’ve been guilty of such neglect on my part. But I’ve confessed those sins. And God has forgiven me.
But we also know, I pray, the immense joy it brings to our spirit when we make a loving difference in someone’s life. There’s nothing better. When we see them “sitting at our front door,” and treat them with Christian dignity. In the same way God treats us sinners.
The parable, however, is not centered in good works alone. This story of Jesus is centered in good eternal life. The life all of us are walking toward and will arrive faster than we would like. (Except for all those older folks who say, “Father, why doesn’t God take me? He doesn’t like me.” “Yes, he does, Mrs. Smith. God likes you. He’s still painting your room right now, and he needs to buy you some furniture. He’ll be done shortly.”)
Good eternal life is our destiny. It’s the final, lasting stage of our humanity. Jesus tells this parable because there is the real possibility that some folks, like the rich man, will miss the mark. After death, they will take a route to the other side that corresponds to their lack of faith in God, their absence of fear of the Lord, and their lack of good actions. Their soul will take a route, a highway, that God did not lay out, or pave. The route God has paved for us is the road that that travels through the Cross of our Lord. Lazarus was familiar with this route before his death into eternal life. The rich man was not.
Our Lord’s parable seeks to call our attention to the joy of our final, everlasting destiny. In a world that grows more and more less afraid of God, and less believing in God’s gift of eternal life, where more and more humans are pretending to be God, and play God, we are to remain steadfast in the humble truth that as authentic Christians, we love and care for those in need. It is a sign to the world that we are Church. We recognize the value of every person, because God does.
The good side of the chasm is our destiny, our true home. And whether we are rich or poor, or somewhere in between, we take joy in the truth that Jesus knows our name.