This is a stark warning. It is dark and difficult to read, but we read it in the light of Jesus Christ. And therefore we have hope and we have an opportunity to change and be better. That is what we are called to do in this wonderful family of God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Please sit.
There are various names for today’s gospel. It’s most commonly referred to as the Gospel of Lazarus. Some people think it should be called the Gospel of the Five Brothers because that is the really important message of this gospel. But I think it should be called the Gospel of the gulf because it highlights the gulf that exists in this world and indeed the next.
The gulf in this world is between those that have and those who have not. The gulf in the next world and in eternity is the gulf between those who believed and listened to Jesus Christ, the man who came back from the dead and those who chose not to. The gospel is a warning. Jesus is using an old Egyptian folktale, to warn those who are listening about how they should live this life. And so it picks up two of my favourite themes of scripture and two themes that you are used to me preaching on regularly. One being, where is our heart? Where is our heart working? How much stuff have we gathered around our heart?
And the other being, training for eternity, using this life as a place to train in how we live the next.
So let’s take the two halves of the gospel. In the first half, we have this folk tale, this Egyptian folktale that Jesus uses to set the scene. And it is the folk tale of, here is a man who has absolutely nothing and a more pathetic earthly individual you could not imagine – even that line about even dogs come and lick his souls. Dogs are unclean creatures, they are the worst possible thing. But even dogs come and lick this man’s sores. There can possibly be no lower individual in the world. And then we have the rich man who has absolutely everything. And no, there’s no story here about an opportunity for the rich man to help the poor man to level the playing field, to live his life in a good world. That’s not what the parable is there for. It is about what happens when you die, because we set the scene; here are the two characters, and then immediately we’re told the rich man also died and was buried.
It’s an important point being made here and it is the point that we all face the same end. And I’ve been preaching this for the last two weeks when we’ve been talking about Her Majesty. We all face the same end and we will all face the same judgement. And it doesn’t matter whether or not we’ve had the most wonderful, comfortable life or whether or not we’ve had the hardest life, we will all die and face the same judgement. I know that is bleak, but it’s meant to be, because it serves as a warning for how we live this life. And Jesus goes on and tells us what happens. The rich man finds himself in hell and Lazarus finds himself in heaven. So we pick up the themes of what Jesus comes to tell us, turns the world on its head. The rich man who had everything in this life is in hell. The poor man who had nothing in this life is in heaven, being comforted by his father. The rich man feels an injustice in this because the rules of eternity are not the same as the rules of this life.
He thought that he was storing up those treasures and to find that they were worth, not when he faced his judgement, and he obviously didn’t face a very good judgement. And so he cries out, he sees Lazarus in heaven. And it’s amazing that even after, and this is the point of the gospel, that even after the rich man has faced his judgement and found himself in hell. He still stubbornly calls out to Father Abraham, not for Father Abraham to help him, but to get Lazarus, who was the person he looked down on his entire life, who was worth nothing, to get Lazarus to come and comfort him. Even after his judgement and death, he has still not learned the message of scripture, the message that Jesus comes and teaches, the message of the prophets and of the law. He still expects Lazarus to come and serve him. Father Abraham, tell Lazarus to come and just place some water on my tongue that I may be comforted. There’s no sense of injustice, just an assumed, okay, well, here I am and it’s not great. And so this person should come and serve me.
And there is the first gulf. There is the gulf and it’s in all of us. It always becomes more apparent in this life when things get difficult, when things are good and there’s plenty of money around, it’s very easy to be generous. It’s very easy to close the gulf between those who have and those who don’t. But when things are scarce, we don’t look to that so much. We tend to contract into ourselves and things we come out with lines like charity begins at home. And so the gulf between the Lazaruses of this world, and the rich men of this world grows even bigger. And so at this time, when we’re looking at the cost of living crisis, when we are seeing heating bills go up, when we are seeing food bills go up, when we are all wondering what on earth our winter heating bill is going to be, (I had two emails from British Gas yesterday telling me what my winter bill was going to be. There was two and a half thousand difference between the two figures) we’re all carrying that anxiety and worry about how we are going to face this winter.
That’s entirely understandable, but it is in these very moments when we have that anxiety that this gospel speaks most powerfully to us.
Because it is in these moments we must be more generous with our giving. It’s in these times where we have to be more generous with our time. It is in these times where we have to see that gulf between rich and poor and do everything that we can to close it and not park it at some remote government department or say this must be done in childhood.
But do it yourselves. We have to do it ourselves.
That’s what this gospel is teaching us. Because it is us that will face that judgement. Like the rich man training for eternal life. So when times are hard and you see the price of food going up, actually if you can put an extra tin of beans in your shop and it’s not going to result in you being on the street, then put an extra tin of beans in your shop and bring it to the food bank. It is more important now than it is when times are good. So we have this gap and we have this stubbornness of heart. Finally, however, the rich man, as the gospel closes, he understands and learns what it is that he is being told. I am here because of this stubbornness of heart and because I didn’t see that gulf and I did nothing about it. And even at my own judgement I didn’t recognise it and understand it. Father Abraham, let me tell my brothers.
That is why I think this gospel should be called the parable of the five brothers. Let me tell my brothers. And Abraham says they’ve been told. They have been told by the prophets, by the scripture, by the law.
They have been told time and time again. And it sounds like even like you are rich man, they are as stubborn as you and they will join you.
And we end on quite a dark note. If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced. Even if someone should rise from the dead. Here Abraham is saying to the rich man, even if I were to take you out of Hades and put you in front of your brothers and tell them, they would still not hear because of the stubbornness of their own heart.
Fortunately, of course, this isn’t where scripture ends because we know what happens after this. We know that a man does come back from the dead. Jesus Christ is dead, dies just like the rich man dies just like Lazarus dies. On a cross, and three days later he rises again and he tell us, he tells us! That we have an opperuntiy to change. We have an opportunity to be better. We have an opportunity to listen to scripture, listen to the prophet, listen to the law to follow it. And when we face that judgement, to find ourselves in Lazarus’s shoes, not the rich man’s.
And so the question for this Sunday is in two parts. In this life, are you going to work to close the gulf. And in this life, are you going to hear the warning of Jesus Christ? Are you going to knock the stubbornness from your heart and listen to the warnings that Jesus gives us? Follow him, knowing that you, too, will be embraced in his arms, in heaven, embraced in his love, where all earthly concerns and everything that brings us anxiety and worry in this life are released. Here is the moment to make that decision. Here is the moment to live your life afresh. Here is the moment to do something good in this life that gives you training for the next life. Here is the moment in this life.
To be able to dip your fingers in the water and bring comfort to those in need. This is a stark warning. It is dark and difficult to read, but we read it in the light of Jesus Christ. And therefore we have hope and we have an opportunity to change and be better. That is what we are called to do in this wonderful family of God.
When we started Mass, I said that together we are lifted towards heaven with incense and with bells and with singing. We are lifted towards our life eternal. But it is our fellowship in this life, our aid of one another in this life, that helps us live each day better than the last. Look out for one another. Care for one another. Not just those that you know, but those that you don’t, whose struggles you will never truly understand. Amen.