A Homily – The Gospel of Luke 16:19 – 31 ©
The Gospel of the Day – 2016.09.25
The Vision of Abraham and Lazarus, A Lack of Charity
Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”
‘The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them..” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”’
False Narratives in the Gospel
There are readings in the Gospel that contradict everything Jesus himself taught.
This is one of those readings.
This is not a parable, it is not meant to teach anything but fear. It is given as a means of justifying the first Christians, especially in those communities outside of Palestine, in their desire to see some others excluded from their charity.
There are clues given; by which we can see that this is a false interpretation of Jesus’ teaching.
The first clue is the heavily mythologized imagery, imagery of the afterlife the presence of Lazarus in the Bosom of Abraham (imagined here as an analogy of Elysium), the abode of the blessed dead.
Another clue is in the reference to Hades, the description of the gulf between it and the blessed realm. Jesus did not speak in concrete terms regarding the afterlife.
Another clue is in the way that the author riffs on the name of Lazarus, which is the name of a man who we know Jesus loved. The author builds up the narrative in a way that draws a clear connection between Lazarus and the tales of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who also, like a dog, asks for scraps at the table of Christ.
In this way the author connects everyone who is viewed as an outsider in the believing community, on the basis of nationalism, and ethnicity, to Lazarus, who was beloved by Jesus; the man for whom Jesus wept.
The final clue we are given so that we can see this reading as false, is the central message of the reading itself. The message that is given is that Jesus is content to let people die in their sins, suffer in eternity, and never have recourse to salvation. This message is in stark contrast to his teaching on love, forgiveness, and mercy.
We should always be mindful of the way the prejudices of human beings, in the era when the gospels were first being written, creep into the narrative to rob us of the truth.
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time