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


Rise Up

raisinglazarusI didn’t want to come back. My consciousness hovered somewhere above the body lying on the gurney. It was all over, I thought. The last sensation I remembered had been incomprehensible, then a tunnel, and a grinding noise as described in other “near death experiences.” But unlike other people who tell of “NDEs,” I saw no lights, no angels, no dead relatives, no friendly saints; rather, I found myself very much awake in a weightless, imageless, gray hyper reality. I experienced clarity, freedom and relief, and a stunning sense of the illusory nature of the life I’d left behind.
Then in the emergency room a nurse enforced an alternative plan for my life. Someone was shaking my body and calling me by name. No! NO! Unprepared and inept, I slipped, as if falling on ice, into that lesser “reality” in a helpless panic of anguish and anger. Suddenly I was back in the confines of that little life of mine. I came to consciousness disappointed, frustrated, unspeakably sad — and in pain.
Each year we celebrate a time to examine our own “near death experiences” in reflecting on our relationship with Christ. Each year in our Lenten Journey, three questions we face: For what do we thirst? What blinds us? What keeps us from being one with God? The Third Sunday of Lent, we met the Woman at the Well. This great story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman takes us immediately from the Matthean world into the richly symbolic world of John.
Last week, the blind man sees. Why is the man born blind? All easy answers seem reasonable next to the strange and confounding answer of Jesus: that God’s work might be revealed in him.
This week, Lazarus lives. Life came to the tomb of Lazarus, as Jesus, “the resurrection and the life,” raised him from the dead. Lazarus became an unwitting part of the Jesus play. He never seemed to seek the attention. Yet, once brought to life, he became the Elvis of his time. People traveled great distances just to get a look at him. The Pharisees plotted to kill him because he was a living symbol of Christ’s power. He was living proof of Christ’s power—even over life and death. This act paved the way for his followers to understand that Christ CHOSE to die and that death could not hold him.
I wonder if Jesus did Lazarus a favor by calling him back from the dead? What I do know is that when Christ enters our lives we are no longer our own. We move from self-control and self-direction to His control and His direction. That transformation is nothing less than the power of the Spirit of God calling each and every one of us to health — to wholeness — to realizing our full potential as children of God and to the life abundant which is our inheritance. It is a change that isn’t about making us someone we’re not but making us more authentically who we are.