March 2 | Luke 16:19-31

Marley's_Ghost_-_A_Christmas_Carol_(1843),_opposite_25_-_BLJesus is really messing things up in these middle chapters of Luke. Right on the heels of those tough words yesterday, we get this parable, out of which I need to find some kind of good news to preach for Sunday. This parable has so much going on in it, that for now, I’ll just throw out some thoughts…

First of all, the first thing that comes to my mind when I read this parable is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This rich man is asking for some kind of “Jacob Marley-esque” visit to his brothers so they can be spared his torment. With that in mind, I think this parable is about heaven and hell in as much as A Christmas Carol is about heaven and hell. By that I mean, it’s not. No one watches A Christmas Carol and walks away from it thinking that heaven and hell are its central theme. No. It’s about (as Marley warns) the chains we create “of our own free will” here and now that keep us and those we use for our own financially and political gain, from true, generous, and liberating life. I think the same is true here. It’s easy to get distracted by the heaven and hell imagery in Jesus’ parable, because it’s there, but that is not really what this parable is about. It is a context or a tool, not the subject. It is used, just as Marley’s ghost, as a walkup call, but it is the ring of that call, not the message itself.

What is it about then?

Well, it’s the same old thing as always in Luke. This is about who counts and who doesn’t. In the beginning of this parable, Lazarus doesn’t count. He is overlooked and ignored. But we learn later that it’s not like the rich man (who is not named) just doesn’t see Lazarus. Not only does he see him, he knows him. The rich man names Lazarus later in the parable. Jesus is exposing the injustice of this current world and calling for an equilibrium or balance to it. Once again, we go back to Mary in Luke 1:

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53).

This is a parable about the injustice of how the kingdoms of this world are set up in such a way that some count and some don’t. Luke’s Jesus is here to break that injustice down. It means that we don’t get to ignore the ignored anymore. We can’t pretend the world’s problems don’t exist. The worlds problems are ours to tend to. They sit at our gates and we know their names. And furthermore they are not “problems”, they are God’s creatures. What we like to call “issues” have at that their core God’s creation, whether it is humans, animals or even the earth itself. We cannot turn a blind eye anymore.

What I find particularly striking about this is that the parable itself is our warning, but it’s also calling out that we’ve already been warned. Any Christian likes to think they’re a “Bible believing” Christian. This parable calls our bluff. The scriptures already warn us about the way we see, value, and treat the overlooked, down-trodden, and disenfranchised. Jesus is calling us (and the Pharisees) to listen to what prophets have told us. Things like…

The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord GOD of hosts. (Isaiah 3:14-15).

And…

Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another;  do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. (Zachariah 7:9-10)

And…

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

Those who have ears, let them hear.

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