The parables of Jesus (Part 2)
Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 17 November 2019
Reading was Luke 16:19-30
Last week we began a three-week series on the parables of Jesus found in the Gospel of Luke. We noted that the Hebrew word for Parable mašal and the Aramaic word for Parable mathla were defined as figurative forms of speech of every kind, not simply as stories. We recognise was that these figurative forms of speech were not simply given to lay down general truth but were uttered in actual situations of the life of Jesus, and more often than not, they were used to correct, reprove, attack: for the greater part, they used as weapons of warfare.
I also shared that there are eight groupings of parables which were around particular emphasis:
- Jesus’ sermons on the Kingdom of God
- Cries of celebration
- God’s mercy for sinners
- Cries of warning and a call for repentance
- The challenge of the crisis
- Realised discipleship
- The way of suffering of Jesus
- And the ultimate end
Taking all of this into consideration we explored the Parable of the Unjust Steward, which is found in the group ‘The Challenge of Crisis’. We came to realise that the main point of this parable was about the owner – God, who was amazingly generous, merciful and forgiving. That‘s why the property manager was commended, not because he lied and cheated and stole but because he knew, he remembered, he trusted that the owner would continue to be merciful, generous and forgiving, even if he chose to do the wrong thing. This is what Jesus says we can learn from the children of this generation – live in the complete knowledge that God is abundantly generous and merciful.
This week, our Parable is called the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man and also fits in the group called ‘The Challenge of Crisis’. So let’s seek to listen to what Jesus might be saying to us today, about God, about our own lives and what the crisis is that Jesus might be talking about.
There once was a wealthy man, who lived in a luxury penthouse apartment in Central Wellington – it was his custom to work hard and to play harder. He spent much seeking out the best boutique fashion designers so he could fill his wardrobe with clothing that highlighted his extreme wealth and status.
Not caring about the noise, his neighbours’ desire for sleep or the hours his staff worked day and night, he held extravagant parties daily, in his large apartment – inviting many of his associates to join him in celebrating his lifestyle.
Constantly hearing the noise above and witnessing the foot traffic of the wealthy man’s guest and smelling the catered food being brought in through the apartments foyer, Lazarus lay on his rolled up blanket in the a small alcove, outside the main entrance – homeless for a number of years, Lazarus, who had been made redundant, which eventually led to ill-health and a broken marriage, positioned himself, with his four legged companion, an English Mastiff called Percy, his only source of comfort – with the hope that some food might find its way to him.
As the evening grew later a continuous flood of people, food and alcohol entered the building. The sound of music and dancing increased as did the smell of meat being slowing cooked over a BBQ. Rather than complaining about his plight, Lazarus settled down for the night. He rolled out his blanket and drew closer to Percy for comfort and warmth.
That night, during the party, Lazarus died. And although those who found his physical body wondered who this man had been and what to do with the dog, Lazarus, in his death finds himself face to face with Jesus – the one who knew his name – the one he had learnt about at Church (the same church the rich man occasionally worshipped at) – and Jesus had prepared a party for him. A party where there was plenty of food, drink and comfort.
That same night, unbeknown to Lazarus, the wealthy man had had a massive heart attack while dancing the Cha, Cha, Cha, and also died. A large funeral was arranged, no expense was spared, eulogies were given and eventually his property and wealth was distributed to his family. However, the wealthy man in his death, found himself in a place of suffering.
As he wondered what was going on he tried to focus his eyes on his surroundings. It seemed to him that whatever place he was now in, it held no colour; only hues of black and grey. There was a smell of burning flesh, like the odour that would wafted from a BBQ, but there was no accompanying hunger pangs that came with such a smell because the odour was mixed with a tinge of rot. Looking around for the source of the fire, he raised his eyes and saw, far off in the distance, two people, one whom he recognised as Lazarus, the homeless man whom he often saw at Church, (when he could get there) and the other, whom he somehow knew was Jesus.
Lazarus seemed to be having a great time – he had been laid out in fine clothing, similar clothing to what the wealthy man use to wear. Lazarus was obviously enjoying some type of beverage. What he saw enraged him.
Why the hell should I be thirsty while Lazarus is drinking his fill?
So he commands Jesus:
Jesus, save me will you! Come on, you know I’ve been going to church for a while – tell Lazarus to bring me some water, or if you’ve got beer that would be even better, because this place is burning my throat; it must be the smoke in the air.
Lazarus doesn’t tell Jesus that this man demanding the drink, is the same man that walked by him every day, ignoring his need, his thirst, his suffering. Instead it is Jesus who responds to the wealthy man.
My dear, dear brother, I know you from Church. I know you had everything when you were alive. You had shelter, warmth, food and beautiful clothes to wear, whereas, Lazarus had none of those things – you know that because you heard his testimony and you walked passed him every day.
But now he does have a place of safety, a place of comfort and plenty of good things to enjoy. Whereas all you had, all you got used to, has gone and so you suffer not only because of what you have lost but because you still believe you are owed something.
There is no way that Lazarus can help you – even now he’s asking me if he could bring you some water – no, there is a great space between you and him which nobody can cross.
You might think the wealthy man would hear these words and give up, but he was used to people obeying him, so instead he applies a different tack – rather than commanding, he begs:
Wealthy Man: “Then please, please, please send Lazarus to my family so he can tell them how to live better, so they don’t end up here.”
Jesus: “They go to church often enough to hear what is said about God’s Kingdom and how to care for the poor. That’s all they need.”
Wealthy Man: “But Jesus, you’re wrong, I know that if they see a miracle they will believe and change – they know the Bible but it’s not enough, they need something special for them to take it seriously – to do what it asks, what you ask!”
Jesus: “Look! If they don’t listen to God then no miracle or sign is going to help them, not even a miracle as great as someone coming back to life after being declared dead!”
So then, what might the parable be saying about God’s Character and how we might be called to live? Like last week, on the surface this story seems clear. There is a turning of the tide, we might say, lf we live like the wealthy man then when we die we will suffer – if we are poor then we are going to have a great life in heaven.
Does this really fit with the rest of what Jesus says in the Gospels? Christians over the years have used this parable to figure out the afterlife. However, this wasn’t Jesus’ intent. Rather Jesus is wanting the listeners then, who were primarily the temple leaders, to focus on the present, by situating themselves with the wealthy man’s family – He’s not telling them to stop enjoying the blessings they have received but rather, before it’s too late, use what they have to bless others because that is what God does.
Jesus asks the same of us, not as a way to gain salvation, but because that is what he does.
How do we know this? The Bible tells us so, the Prophets tell us, the community of faith tells us, Jesus tells us – so how are we living our lives in the face of that truth?