Saturday, 25 September 2010
Who's in control?
Gospel Luke 16:19-31
Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”
‘The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them.” “Ah no, Father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “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.”’
My students love discussion about God and forgiveness - ’But really – if you were the horriblest person who ever lived and never believed in God and then you said sorry the minute you died – you would go to Heaven!!!!’
Well, the truth is – our faith tells us that is exactly what we have to believe – but then again – why wait so long?
But there are some people who like to live life on the edge.
Whether it is because they don’t understand the rules; whether they think the rules don’t apply to them; whether they think that every rule has a get out clause; they will live a life they call their own and expect the world to fall into place around them or there will always be time to make amends.
Luke has been telling us that there is a certain discipline involved in living a faithful life; that there are expectations of what we do; how we do it and even why we do it. We are meant to be following in the footsteps of Jesus; we are meant to be trying to be ‘Christ-like’.
The rules involved in this are very few, but undeniable. To love God; to love others; to treat others even better than you treat yourself; to make the most of who you are and what God have given you as your gift. These rules open you up to other people; to their needs; make you attentive of the lives they live and how you – you – can help them.
Being Christ-like isn’t going to be easy – in fact …….. we manage it in only moments of time. Most of the time our life is a struggle between how we are and how we know we should be.
We are assured of the Father’s forgiveness even when we have turned away and made an absolute mess of things He will be there with open arms to welcome us back. God asks a lot but He gives more; but there comes a time when the choice you have made – is made.
The Rich Man, and he is a very rich man, may claim to believe in God – but there is little evidence. He uses whatever faith he has to bend the rules; to allow him to ignore the pile of rags sitting outside his very front door; he may even use him to assert his status - this unclean man is obviously the one God has turned His back on – after all where are his rewards?
We should know now that that is not the way God thinks; God is generous; God is concerned with saving the soul of the Rich Man. God has actually made it very easy for him; giving him just one thing to do - placing just one man in need of help in a place where to help would be so simple – a few scraps of food; a length of cloth; someone to chase away the dogs and not a break required in his living; in his lifestyle. But; no – so, no remorse; no need for forgiveness; no understanding of the need for forgiveness.
Even in death, the Rich Man retains his misguided belief in his status. He cannot even bring himself to address Lazarus directly and talks to his father Abraham, as an equal. Tell Lazarus to look after me; tell Lazarus to go and warn my brothers as if he cannot believe or accept how Lazarus has come to be sitting in the lap of Abraham. His worldview is unaltered; his continued lack of humility means he cannot ask for forgiveness; he cannot see the need for forgiveness even now. He blames the system; He simply believes that he has misread the rules.
The gulf that the Rich Man cannot cross is the belief that he continues to be in charge; even to the point of changing the rules of life and death to allow Lazarus to go to his brothers. Just do this one more thing and I will believe you; I will be saved. How much more do we want God to do?
It isn’t just about being rich; Jesus has rich friends but, it seems, he worries about them. Being rich in this world puts you in charge of your life and of others. The privilege of wealth should bring an awareness of the responsibility of having it; sometimes it does but often it doesn’t. We get used to the idea that we can buy our way out of things and we can’t.
And then, at the end, if we expect someone else to save us – why should they?
After all, what will we have done to deserve it?