Learning From The Master


So here again in our Gospel today, we have yet another teaching about the temptation to serve wealth rather than God.
There is a rich man who is portrayed as the type who likes to parade his wealth around before others. I picture Michael Cain as he appeared in the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but you can pick your own image to hold in your mind as you imagine this story on the Big Screen.
Since he wore purple, this man may have been some sort of noble or held an office. He lives in a gated community in Jerusalem’s most prestigious suburb and he loves to host big, fancy parties.
Playing opposite the role of Michael Cain as the rich man is Nick Nolte as Lazarus. He is broken in body, mind, and spirit, and has to fight the dogs off for the bread that the rich man throws out. Those same dogs lick his sores.
Both of our characters die. Lazarus lands a place in the heavenly realm next door to Father Abraham (brilliantly portrayed by James Earl Jones), and within eye shot of Michael Cain, who has unfortunately suffered a role reversal in the afterlife and taken the place of Lazarus outside the security gates.
In the climactic moment, Michael Cain falls down on the ground before James Earl Jones and begs him for water while ignoring the presence of Nick Nolte. I can just hear James Earl Jones at this moment intoning from a distance, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”
The great divide between the rich and the poor that existed on earth apparently continues in heaven. The story does not conclude with a happy ending. Even though the rich man is finally able to look beyond his own self-centeredness for just long enough to make a plea for his brothers, Abraham does not offer much in the way of encouragement about their fate. Just like the rich man, if his brothers cannot reach past the cultural norms and heed to the calls to justice made by Moses and the prophets, they have sealed their futures. Nothing can help them now.
It is a tough story to hear, even with great actors playing all the lead roles. Most people avoid seeing movies that don’t have a happy ending, and this one just doesn’t. If Hollywood decides to film this thing, I have a feeling it will not be a box-office smash.
There is just no way to soften the blow here. “The ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor is one of the most important issues of our day. The intrepid “moral of the story” expressed in this parable is that if you do not cross the chasm between the rich and the poor in this life, you surely will not be able to do it in the next.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we simply cannot ignore the gospel mandate to end the economic disparities that exist in this world. Can we preach this? Maybe not the first year in an economically affluent community, but at some point this message needs to be boldly preached, not just as a word of hope for those who are suffering now, but also as a very clear word of caution for those who would take even an economically modest lifestyle for granted — ESPECIALLY those who would take an economically modest lifestyle for granted. There can be no great chasms between us.

 Adapted from Renew International: Prayer Time Cycle C