By June Edwards
First UMC, Lakeland, FL
First, read Luke 16:19-31
As we reflect on this passage today, we can’t help but think about the world around us. We are bombarded by images of needless suffering and we are called to reflect upon how we are living out our own lives.
Jesus relates this story which is centered on a rich man who lacked for nothing save a moral center and the desperately poor and suffering Lazarus who needed so much. The great disparity between the two is seen today—even in our own country which enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world and in our own communities where the poor and the suffering are so often invisible.
What is striking is that the nameless rich man appears to have no knowledge, no awareness of Lazarus who was in such desperate need. In this text,the poor and the suffering are given a name. Jesus tells us that they are especially known to God.The season of Lent offers the opportunity for self-examination so that we might discover or uncover how we are known to God.
We are encouraged to spend time specifically in prayer and silence so that we would listen and see with spiritual ears and eyes. Often, persons practice a letting go of those things that can tend to obstruct our listening and seeing and so Lent is a time of self-denial as well. The wealthy nameless one’s ignorance points to all those things we are called to name in our own life that get in the way of a real and vital relationship with God.
Jesus’ lesson to his listeners was that the rich man’s wealth served to literally block his vision to the needs of those around him. It wasn’t until he was experiencing suffering in his death that he understood the full extent of the suffering of Lazarus and cries out to Father Abraham begging for mercy and relief.
In the conversation that follows between the rich man and Father Abraham, the rich man wants to warn his brothers that they not make the same mistake in order that they not find themselves in this same place of torment. But Father Abraham reminds him that they already have the law and the prophets to live by. They already have the tools by which to live a just and faithful life that cares especially for the poor and the vulnerable. A special warning even by someone from the dead will do no good he says.
We live in a time where wealth and the pursuit of wealth is not only a high priority it is justified at all cost. It is common belief once again that if you’ve earned it it’s yours and that there’s no compunction to have to share it. And, in fact, there is an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) belief that those who are without deserve their lot in life for they evidently have not worked hard enough. We have strayed far from not only the gospel but the entire biblical witness.
In John Wesley’s sermon, “The Rich Man and Lazarus” he notes, “it is no more sinful to be rich than to be poor. But it is dangerous beyond expression.” (The Wesley Study Bible, p.1268). It is dangerous because we become more and more self-focused and less and less God-focused. Jesus’ words come with both a warning and a call. We are warned of a future judgment based on our priorities and faithfulness and how we live them out. We are called to live our lives with God as our priority which results in caring for our neighbor including and especially the poor and the suffering.
There is no room in the kingdom for a self-centered, glorification of resources. Rather, we are called to discover the names of those who suffer and share our lives and our resources with them.
I met Jeanette in a local homeless shelter during a supervised ministry course in seminary. One of the case workers thought it would be helpful to her to have someone with whom she could form a consistent relationship.
Over the next several years, I witnessed her struggle with mental illness and the criminal justice system as bit by bit she lost her husband, her children and any hope of a home and stability. She sank deeper and deeper into drug use and prostitution. I saw the sores that were the result of meth addiction. There were many letters from jail as well as collect calls.
It was so disheartening that there were no ready answers for her situation. Yet, Jeannette taught me so much as we shared our stories and our lives together. I witnessed her capacity for love and joy and heartbreak and sorrow in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. More than anything, through her letters and her calls, I witnessed her need to be known and acknowledged and loved. I will forever carry Jeannette’s name in my heart.
The Rich Man and Lazarus calls us to pay close attention to who we are and those that are invisible to us. May we seek God’s will for our lives and in the process learn who God is truly calling us to be.
Prayer: Gracious and Loving God, you came to us in Christ Jesus in order that we would experience your grace and love in the most personal of ways. You have called us by name. In Christ, we have the assurance that we are known. As we sit in your presence this day and in these moments, help us to clear away all that prevents us from hearing our name spoken and knowing that we are yours. Give us the courage to entrust those possessions that we have accumulated into your care that we would be released to share them with others. As we go forth in your name, may we share that same love and grace with those who suffer and call them by name just as you have done. In Jesus’ name, amen.
- If Lent is a time of self-examination and discovery, what is it in your life that has been unnamed and is glaringly in need of being named?
- What is literally blocking your view of the needs of people and getting in the way of responding to the needs of the community in which you live? What do you need to release or let go in order to be free to respond?
- Where are those whose names Jesus carries in his heart but are unnamed to you? How will you discover their names? How will you find where they are? What are the ministries in your community that will help you not only learn the names of those who suffer but be taught by them as well?