“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.
The Rich Man and Lazarus. In the Gospel of Luke, there is a strange sense that today and eternity are intimately connected. The riches of today and the riches of tomorrow are likewise connected. What I have in the here and now might just be discounted against the riches I might have in the there and then and I will be the one who makes the deal that makes it so. The same goes for happiness and consolation, honor and humbleness, even security.
It is not simply riches that are measured against eternity’s bounty, it is all the “stuff” of easy living that we hold dear: Health, long life, honor, martyrdom, sainthood, exceptionality, common man status, right school, right class, right privileged group, snake-handler un- bit for 25 years, Baptist saved on July 4th, Pentecostal attested to be speaking in 24 unknown tongues, Lutheran so humble about faith that he never talked about it. If it is dear to us, it must be measured thoroughly. You will, you WILL, live without it eventually. In the kingdom of God even Lutherans will openly witness to the salvation in Jesus Christ.
St Ignatius defined the aim of human life this way
[Humanity] has been created to this end: to praise God, and revere Him, and serving Him finally be saved. All other things on earth, then, have been created because of [humanity] in order to help [them] reach the end of their creation. ..
We should not look for health more than sickness, nor prefer wealth to poverty, honor to contempt, a long life to a short one. But, from these.. Choose and desire those that contribute to the achievement of the end. (Ignatius, 1548, note 23, 11, text altered for inclusive language)
All things in this world are tools. They are put there by the Father as providence. The question really is: Has this particular thing be put there “for you?” The sacramental reference is purely intentional. All things, riches and poverty included, must be grasped or laid down when God demands. No exceptions.
But: what if they are grasped for their own sake? What if they are grasped without thought about how they serve God, and Luther would add (On Christian Liberty, part 3), how they serve the neighbor?
Answer: They become idols. They become gates. Lazarus lies on one side of that gate. The rich man lies on the other side of that gate. Lazarus is merely lying there. It does not seem that he is even begging. He might be too sick to do so. Will the dust of the earth praise you, O God? (Ps 30) Lazarus is brought so low that he physically does not praise God, neither does the sight of Lazarus lying on the street decaying alive give honor to his God above. Nothing on the other side of the gate gives praise to God either. There is stuff enough to lift Lazarus out of misery and back to bursting into song, praising God like the shepherds leaving the manger, but it is not used that way. On the other side of the gate the fool thinks in his heart there is no God. (Ps 14) That fool would rather bargain with Abraham than call out of the depth to the Lord. And his bargain is strange indeed: Give me water. It is as if he realizes that this is his place, he merely wants to make it more comfortable for himself.
Gates have a strange effect, they can become chasms, as has happened in this case. But the kingdom seems to have no gates. It has been preached since John and it is being entered “eagerly.” (Lk 16:16) Before it, law and prophets reigned and their word will not pass away. The rich man could have, says Jesus, read the law and the prophets and it should have shown him Lazarus. Yet, the law and the prophets could not storm the gate. They can show Lazarus but only love can lead to Lazarus. That does not make law and prophet invalid. Gates, as defensive structures, tend to be locked from the inside just as hearts are locked from the inside. (Lk 16:15) The faith of Israel has been abandoned like the wife of one’s youth (Malachi 2) for a faith in idols. Law and prophet have been kept outside the gate of the heart, admitted only when it is convenient to the Pharisee whose heart Jesus condemns here. Adherence to a faith that can have Lazarus lying at the other side of the gate from you, is a faith that has abandoned the first love, the faith of Abraham, for another. It is idolatry, it is adulterous, in a prophetic sense. (Lk 16:18)
He is a shrewd man, this rich man without a name. He has made life comfortable for himself. Now he is negotiating to make hell comfortable as well. And so he starts negotiating . . . with Abraham? Sure, Abraham is the father of those who bargain with God, but this guy seems to be unable to grasp that his negotiation partner ought to be God, not Abraham, not Moses, but God and the Messiah. At some point ought not the call go out: Out of the depth I call to you, Lord be my help? (Ps 130) That call is never made. Do the Pharisees in Luke ever call upon God? (that is a real question and I have no answer) Or do they all merely quote the law and the prophets while the poor who have seen the kingdom in their midst break out in song? Yet, law and prophet cannot do what they must being hindered by the flesh. (Rom 8:3)
Can the chasm be overcome? One Sabbath-eve a cry comes out: I am getting what I deserve. Jesus, Remember me when you come into your kingdom. The cry that saves. Will the rich man realize this? Will the Pharisees? Will the son of man find faith? Will you call out thus from the other side of the gate?