I have been watching a lot of movies lately that have spiritual, even Christian messages to them. For example, the “God’s not dead” series, “Seven Days in Utopia”, the newest of the X-Men movies, the remake of the classic “Ben-Hur” and the most recent one,”90 minutes in Heaven”. All of them in different was explore themes that are current in society. And in particular, the movies concentrate on what happens after we die. “90 minutes in Heaven” is the true story about, Don Piper, a young successful pastor, a married man with a growing family who dies in a car accident and spends 90 minutes in heaven before a fellow pastor prays for him and the young pastor is brought back to life.
The Gospel this week, is about two men, who have only a little in common. One man lives in a grand palace: he throws lavish parties, eats incredible meals and does so wearing fine clothes, including fine linens and purple (the sign of royalty) robes. This certain rich man must have passed by the other man in this story many times because Lazarus lived at the gate to the rich man’s estate. Lazarus had nothing to eat and his clothing was his sores which the dogs sniffed and licked because of the order coming from them. Aside from their humanity and their proximity in terms of geography, the only other thing these two men shared was death. We are not told how long there was between the time that Lazarus died and was carried to Abraham and when “Dives” died and was buried by his family and friends (Luke 16.19-31). Whether time between these deaths was long or short, makes little difference.
What is important is what we hear and how we are going to act in response to the parable that Jesus tells. I should point out that this is not a story about how to safely get from here to the bosom of Father Abraham, how to get to heaven. It is about how to live in eternity, and to live it in the here and the now.
So, let me say something important: one of the things that everyone needs to be aware of is that self satisfied, self made people never see the need for help from an outside source – much less God - until they themselves are in real trouble. Through this story, Jesus is warning those who have a lot that much is expected of them because they have been blessed. Those who have much in terms of wealth and possessions have much worry about in maintaining what they have and their possessions. In this way, our ‘stuff’ can become idols and separate us from God and from our neighbours.
But more importantly, how we handle our possessions and how we work at the relationships that we have, shows the interior of our lives and our hearts. “Dives” saw and knew the situation of Lazarus but chose not to deal with it. He had the resources, he saw the need, he heard the warnings and admonitions of the Laws of Moses and the Prophets and still “Dives” Was not moved one iota to help Lazarus. Without help and care, Lazarus dies and finds himself cared for by a “Legend of the Faith”.
When the rich man takes his place in Sheol (Hades or hell) – he sees Lazarus and starts treating him like a servant or a slave. In my mind, maybe that is a step up in status for Lazarus because in the eyes of the rich man, at least now he is paying attention to Lazarus who could potentially be useful to him. But first he asks for mercy because he is now the one in pain and suffering and he wants to be comforted by Father Abraham.
Abraham’s reply reminds of what Jesus had to say in the Sermon on the Plain, ““But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6.24-26 ESV)
There can be no going between you and me. We are separated by the chasm – you are where you are and there is changing or easing those circumstances. Those who are here, who would go to you and minister to your needs cannot, and you cannot get over here because you chose to be over there in life.
Still trying to deal with things and to be in control the rich man asks for Lazarus to be sent to his family, so that they did not suffer the same fate as him. “Let him warn them so that they do not enter into this awful place”
“They have all the warning they need: Moses and the Prophets,” retorts Father Abraham. “The Scriptures will tell them what to do and they need to follow the Scriptures’ commands.”
“No, Father. They will not listen to the Law and the Prophets, but if someone they knew was dead and they see him, then they will listen,” pleaded Dives.
To this supplication Abraham replied “If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, then a man rising from the dead will not convince them either- they will never be convinced.”
Fear is a poor motivator where faith is concerned. And a dead man will not make the skeptic believe. The proper response to God and his Gospel is repentance.
One last thought. We are the siblings of Dives. He had brothers and maybe even sisters. Are we not them? We have Moses and the Prophets and the risen Christ (the man risen from the dead) calling us to care for the least, the last and the lost. We called to learn to live not just for that day when we find ourselves in heaven. We are drawn to God so that we might live into the life of the kingdom and do so in the here and now. We are called to open our hearts to God in worship and to humanity to have compassion for them.
So it comes down to a few simple choices – where will you live, now and in eternity? And what will it take for you to be convinced that we need to open our hearts to God and to one, genuinely caring for and sharing with one another?