by J. Mary Luti, a freelance writer, is former associate dean at Andover Newton Theological School. This article appeared in the Christian Century, September 9-16, 1998, page 819; copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org . This text was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
A Little Bit for Everyone
Oremus online text: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Luke+16:19-31&vnum=yes&version=nrsv
Textweek general resources: http://www.textweek.com/yearc/properc21.htm
Textweek resources for Luke’s Gospel this Sunday: http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/lk16b.htm
Some interesting articles on this passage:
Sermon by John Wesley:
William Loader’s thoughts:
Commentary by Chris Haslam
Some thoughts from Working Preacher:
A study guide by Robert B. Kruschwitz:
Great treasures website: http://greattreasures.org/gnt/main.do
To the poor man of the parable, O God, your Son gave the name Lazarus, while the rich man’s only identity begins and ends with his wealth. Do justice for all who are oppressed. Put an end to humanity’s unbridled thoughtlessness. Let us cling to your word in Moses, the prophets and the gospels, so that we may be convinced that Christ is risen from the dead and be welcomed by you into your kingdom.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
I cannot begin my reflection upon the story of Lazarus without pointing out the several verses that begin this pericope; without which I believe the context may indeed be lost. Luke tells us that the “Pharisees were money lovers.” They were disdainful of Jesus and of his teachings about wealth and stewardship. Jesus tells them that while they may justify their lives and manner of living in front of the people that God knows their hearts. No matter how society treats the privileged God will see that they truly serve wealth and not God alone. Jesus also is clear that the reign of God, the kingdom, is now being proclaimed and all are being urged to enter it. Jesus then gives the words on divorce and how in God’s eyes it is adultery.
Scholars point out that “idolatry, money, and divorce are joined in the law by the term bdelygma.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, 255) The word is translated from Greek into English with the meaning abomination, or abuse. Fornication is added to the list in the Qumran writings. (LTJ, 255) Jesus brings us all up short reminding us with these words of the singular focus upon God that is called for in the work of discipleship and how we cannot pretend piety when we also live a life of abuse.
I am not going to enter into the debate between Palagian and Augustine on the responsibility or depravity of human beings though this passage clearly touches on this theological theme. Nevertheless, these first words of the passage tell us that Jesus understands that his followers are to enter into virtuous living. The reign of God has a particular life that is lived and that life is one focused upon God. Those who reject the prophet will in turn be rejected by God.
I want to now remind us that Jesus is clear that John’s prophetic Gospel which begins with repentance and turning to the Lord are essential. Jesus says in this passage “the law and the prophets continue through John.” Luke Timothy Johnson believes that Jesus in the polemical speech may be challenging those who listen, and may be rhetorically asking, “Can those who love wealth even hear the law, the prophets, and the proclamation of the Gospel?” (255)
The way in which we might read the parable now of Lazarus is through the lens of these polemical teachings about life lived in the reign of God. It is in fact a teaching which illustrates the beatitudes themselves.
6:20 "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 "Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. "Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 "Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 24 "But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 "Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. "Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 26 "Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
The blessings and the woes are clearly illustrated in the characters of Lazarus and the wealthy man.
The parable continues past the result of lives lived and rewards received in Heaven. The rich man still wants Lazarus to serve him to serve his brothers. We then discover that the rich man was more than wealthy he was a hard hearted man for he did not pay any attention to Lazarus in their life together. Luke Timothy Johnson reminds us of the law laid out in the Talmud: “Whoever turns away his eyes from one who appeals for charity is considered as if he were serving idols.” (256).
I have over time heard a lot of sermons on this passage. Most of them shy away from the issue of rejection. Jesus is clear though if one rejects God in this life, if one rejects living in the reign of God in this life, if one rejects the work of the reign of God in this life one will be rejected in the life to come.
In some way I want to chart a clear path for the Christian response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are charged to live a virtuous life. We humans have a very difficult life living such a life devoted to others and to God. It is natural for us to be selfish and to seek our own desires over the desires of others. Yet we are in the end also responsible for our life and our living.
I am convinced that how we live our lives today affects how we live our lives in the reign of God (realized in this world and in the age to come). The blessing of the cross and the resurrection is not our free ticket out of jail, but rather the removal of the stumbling block of sin that we may serve others and God in the name of Jesus Christ. We are to live a glorious life of caring and service. This is the greatest narrative to be told, and the living of the tale is what will ultimately be what attracts others into relationship with Jesus Christ.
Like the Pharisees we must recognize and name all that separates us from the love of God, claim our own abominations and the chasm we have dug for ourselves. After the repentance of John is undertaken in response to the message of Christ then we must realize the life we have been given is for living. We must live our lives in Christ and live them for the Lazarus dwelling at our own city gate..
Now that you have accepted your redemption and promised to live a life of Christ open your eyes to those sitting at the gates around you. See their faces. Know their names. Change their lives. We are to do nothing less than bring into this world the reign of God that the Lazarus at our gates may begin life in the bosom of Abraham today.
The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”