Do you remember old Scrooge in A Christmas Carol?
He was a greedy old guy, running his business to make the most money
without any regard for his employees, especially Bob Cratchit,
his underling who could barely support his family on his meager earnings.
Then one night, Scrooge receives a visit from his former partner, Marley.
Marley had died sometime before and comes back from the dead to warn Scrooge—
Horrible things will happen to him if he doesn’t change his greedy ways!
Throughout the night, Scrooge has three more visitors, each who give the same wake up call—
and when Scrooge does wake up, he is changed man, giving the biggest goose in town to Tiny Tim,
Bob Cratchit’s son.
Our Gospel reading today is in the same vein as A Christmas Carol—
an exaggerated story about another rich man insensitive to the needs of those around him.
The Pharisees had been criticizing Jesus for his teachings on money and faith
They had been scandalized by Jesus’ choice of dinner companions.
So Jesus told this fantastic story about heaven and hell,
and about a rich man who ignored the beggar at his gate named Lazarus.
The story opens with a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen.
These were exceptionally expensive fabrics, since both had to be imported.
In poetic contrast, Lazarus the poor man, is dressed in sores.
The rich man enjoys fine dining every day, but Lazarus is like the stray dogs that lick his sores,
hoping for only scraps that might fall from the rich man’s table.
In this vivid description, Jesus presents an implicit question:
If you could choose which of these two men to sit with, who would it be?
The rich man would look good, and you’d look good sitting next to him.
He might even offer you a drink from that sumptuous meal of his.
Lazarus, on the other hand, looked awful, like he might be contagious.
He probably smelled bad, I’m sure he never took care of his teeth.
He didn’t have crumb to his name.
Who would choose Lazarus?
The contrast is so stark that there would be few of either Jesus’ detractors or disciples
who would choose a dinner companion like Lazarus.
The surprise of the story is that God chooses Lazarus.
The rich man doesn’t even have a name.
He is far from God, but Lazarus is snuggled in Abraham’s bosom like a baby at the breast.
the rich man tries to order Lazarus around, as he did when he was alive:
tell Lazarus to come and give me some water!
But in a majestic reversal, Abraham tells him:
“Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things;
but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”
Now it’s easy to get caught up in Jesus’ heaven and hell imagery here.
It might seem like harsh punishment for the rich man.
But remember that Jesus is telling a story, exaggerating to make a point.
And his point is still coming.
Because the rich man, seeing that he cannot change his situation,
wants Abraham to send Lazarus to go warn his five brothers.
Lazarus, whom the rich man ignored all his life, though he was right outside his house—
this is the one the rich man wants to go tell his brothers to change their ways.
How do you think that’s going to go over?
Not as well as with Scrooge, sad to say.
Abraham says that if they don’t listen to the prophets and the scriptures,
then they won’t listen to someone coming back from the dead.
Jesus’ final point is there is no turning back after death, for ‘a great chasm is fixed’
Even a Jacob Marley wouldn’t convince them to change their ways.
When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in the 1840’s, he was concerned with social justice.
In this time of the Industrial Revolution, there were many poor children abandoned by their families
who turned to crime and delinquency in order to survive.
Dickens wanted to highlight the plight of the poor for the general public,
who often blamed the poor for their own misfortune.
He knew the way to reach a broad range of people was not a political treatise or scholarly article,
but a popular story. And so he created this story about the real meaning of Christmas
and the conversion of Ebenezer Scrooge, in the hopes that it would change the hearts of his audience.
This is another point of connection to Jesus’ story.
Jesus wanted to change the hearts of his audience, too—
people who judged others for how they looked or acted
people who kept at arms length those who seemed different or dirty.
The audience of Jesus’ story is not only the Pharisees while Jesus was alive,
but also Luke’s readers once Jesus was gone.
That includes us.
We do have the benefit of someone coming back from the dead—Jesus himself.
We have this story as a wake up call.
So we must ask ourselves: who is the modern day Lazarus?
Who do you walk on by, turning your eyes away, or perhaps not even notice?
Whose name do you know, but you would never sit with?
Jesus’ point is that when we do not welcome others, especially those who are poor
we contribute to that great chasm that separates us not only from other people
but from our true selves.
Because inside every one of us there is a poor person.
Inside every one of us, there is a person in need of help.
Inside every one of us, there is a place that needs to be cleaned.
And inside every one of us, there is a memory of a time when we were judged or excluded.
When we make a place at the table for Lazarus, when we go and sit with him
we narrow the chasm of separation
we reconnect with our own humanity.
We remember that Jesus came as a poor man in a body that smelled
and we meet him face to face.
If we ask ourselves, who is Lazarus, we must also ask ourselves, who are we in this parable?
I think we are the five brothers—
Jesus is telling this story to ask: will we listen to the scriptures? will we heed his warning?
Right here in our congregation,
right in the communities in which we live and work and go to school
we have an opportunity to live without the chasm, without the judgment, the bullying, the ‘isms’
Jesus offers us a way to live with greater connection, humanity, and joy.
Sitting with Lazarus means a fuller, more abundant life.
It’s not as much about guilt as it is the smile on their face when they are included
the blossoming of a person when they are given a chance
and the way our own souls expand when we connect with others.
The rich man in Jesus’ parable is stuck, but we do not have to be.
The choice is yours: will you sit with Lazarus today?