Monday, September 27, 2010

Lazarus and Dives

I preached on Sunday using Luke 16:19-31 as the gospel reading. This is the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Here is part of the sermon:

I read a commentary by William Barkley in which he describes the two main characters. The first one has no name. He is traditionally called Dives, which is Latin for rich, but really, he is unnamed. Dives lives the life of luxury. He wears purple robes and fine linen – these are priests’ robes, and they cost many times more than a daily wage. He feasts everyday – and the word used for feasts is one that means to eat exotic and gourmet foods – and he does this every day. There is no mention of the work he did, or his life at all, except the luxury in which he lived. The picture the parable paints of Dives is one of self-indulgence.

Compare him to Lazarus. Lazarus is named – in fact, he is one of the only named characters in any of the parables. He name means “God is my help.” He is a beggar, living on Dives doorstep. He is covered in sores, so weak that he can’t even stop the dogs from licking his wounds. He is waiting for the crumbs from Dives’ table. In those days, there weren’t forks and spoons or napkins. When rich people needed to clean their hands as they were eating, they wiped them on bread and then dropped the bread on the floor. That’s what Lazarus is hoping for -- bread used to clean Dives’ hands.

What is it that Dives has done wrong? He doesn’t stop Lazarus from living on his doorstep -- he doesn’t have anyone chase him away. He doesn’t refuse him the crumbs from his table. He doesn’t seek to have him punished for being a beggar. He doesn’t complain about him or react to him in any way.

The problem is that Dives doesn’t see Lazarus. Lazarus might as well be invisible to the rich man. According to Barkley, the sin of Dives is that he could look upon the pain, the need, the grief and sickness of Lazarus and not feel anything – not feel compassion – not act in love to help Lazarus. In fact, at the end of the parable, when Dives is asking Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers, Abraham’s answer almost leads us to believe that if Dives and his brothers aren’t moved by the person on their doorstep, then even someone rising from the dead wouldn’t convince them.



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