Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dives and Lazarus- Luke 16.91-31, a Midrash on Proverbs 21.13

"Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard..." - Proverbs 21.13 NKJV


The reading for today in the Orthodox and Byzantine Churches is from the Gospel of Luke chapter 16. It describes the plight of a man who ignores the cries of the poor, and experiences a dramatic reversal of fortunes. In order to prosper from this word today, we need to see ourselves as the rich man, and repent. - Lance

The reading-  Luke 16.19-31 NKJV: 

19 "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.
20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,
21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.
23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.'
25 But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.
26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'
27 Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house,
28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'
29 Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'
30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
31 But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.' "

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Today, in the Byzantine Churches, the Gospel reading is from Luke 16.19-31. I have the passage posted below. This is the story of the rich man and poor beggar, Lazarus. Although the parable in the Gospel does not name the rich man, he has been traditionally named, "Dives."

This is a story of reversal of fortunes. The beggar Lazarus is at the rich man's gate everyday, hoping from crumbs from the rich man's table. But the rich man ignores him, and Lazaraus starves to death. Later, the rich man dies, and finds himself in torment in Hades.

I once heard an Orthodox Priest, Fr. Hans Jacobse, comment on this passage, that it is read shortly before Advent, at a time we are expecting the coming of Christ. For this parable is indeed another version of the Last Judgment, as Christ told in Matthew 25.31-46 in the parable of the Sheep and Goats.

Fr. Marc Boulos, in his podcast this week, remarks that we must be careful that we see ourselves in the rich man, that we are the oppressor, we are the rich man, we are the one who ignores the plight of the poor and the oppressed.

In Orthodox spirituality, we start with ourselves.

One very serious object lesson in this passage is point out by Fr. Marc, and also, in the commentary of the Orthodox Study Bible, is that we must not say "no" to the word of God. Notice that Dives asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers still living about this torment in Hades. Abraham says, "they have Moses and the Prophets," essentially, the Hebrew Bible. But Dives says  'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'.. But father Abraham stops him right there-  'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.' Dives says "No" to the Word of God. He and his brothers, as sons of Israel have the Hebrew Bible. The message of justice and charity is clear in the written Word.

We too, have the written word in the Sacred Scriptures. Paul writes to Timothy, that we have the scriptures, which are able to make us "wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3.15-17)." Just as Dives and his brothers are accountable to the written Word, so are we. Jesus warns us that "the word that I have spoken will judge [us] in the last day (John 12.48)."

And this includes the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus tells us in John chapter 5, "Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words (John 5.45-47 NKJV)?"

We ignore the Word of God at our own peril. The Word has told us how we must respond to the least of these. The written word of God is replete with calls to respond to the poor and needy among us.

In the Wisdom of Jesus, Ben Sirach, we taught importance of listening to the plea of the poor and treating them with respect:

Water extinguishes a blazing fire:
so almsgiving atones for sin.
[31] Whoever requites favors gives thought to the future;
at the moment of his falling he will find support.
[1] My son, deprive not the poor of his living,
and do not keep needy eyes waiting.
[2] Do not grieve the one who is hungry,
nor anger a man in want.
[3] Do not add to the troubles of an angry mind,
nor delay your gift to a beggar.
[4] Do not reject an afflicted suppliant,
nor turn your face away from the poor.
[5] Do not avert your eye from the needy,
nor give a man occasion to curse you;
[6] for if in bitterness of soul he calls down a curse upon you,
his Creator will hear his prayer.
[7] Make yourself beloved in the congregation;
bow your head low to a great man.
[8] Incline your ear to the poor,
and answer him peaceably and gently.
[9] Deliver him who is wronged from the hand of the wrongdoer;
and do not be fainthearted in judging a case.
[10] Be like a father to orphans,
and instead of a husband to their mother;
you will then be like a son of the Most High,
and he will love you more than does your mother.


- Sirach 3.30-4.10 RSV

In this passage in Sirach, we taught to respond to the poor graciously, to treat those are in need with respect. There is no call to disparage them.

In America, we are definitely the rich man, or Dives. We have the prosperity Gospel, where we equate material wealth with God's blessings. But Jesus in his parable today, overturns that heretical and false notion.

We have Christians that follow Ayn Rand and her selfish, objectivist philosophy, or other philosophies that are similar. I am sorry, but I cannot see how one can try to have an ethos of giving in their private life, but to be against any public assistance of social support. How can you believe in selflessness in one realm and support selfishness, greed, and lack of mercy in the public realm? It is philosophically inconsistent, and completely unbiblical. Over the years I have almost soured on Christianity in this country seeing the insensitive comments that some Christians make about the poor, and their hostility toward government welfare programs. A country as rich as the United States still is will be guilty of a great sin in ignoring those among us who struggle with poverty or hunger.

But that door swings both ways, one cannot be a liberal and rely only on government redistribution to help the poor. You can pay your taxes, and still go to hell, if you do not practice charity and justice in your own life. If we preach charity and social justice to others, we must practice it in our own lives, as we are able. And we must respect those who are poor, and not just pity them.

We Americans look down on the poor, even though many of us are just a pay check away from losing everything. A loss of job or poor health can cause us to lose our home or our middle class life style.

But with the twin heresies of the prosperity Gospel and selfish political philosophies, we look down on the poor. We say that those who are poor have made bad choices, and can rise above poverty through ambition. We believe the bullshit myth, which has no anchor in reality, that anyone can become rich in this country. Again, hear the Word of God:

"He who laughs at the poor provokes the One who made him, and he who rejoices in destruction will not go unpunished." - Proverbs 17.5, St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint.

Notice that Dives STILL, even while suffering torment in Hades, still wants the poor man Lazarus, to be his servant- 'send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.'  And, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'

Americans need to know this verse: "Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard..." - Proverbs 21.13. The parable of Dives and Lazarus is a perfect picture, a Midrash if you will,  of this verse.

One of the great takeaways from this passage is the dramatic reversal of fortunes that the poor and rich will experience:  But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. This fits well with Jesus's teaching in Luke 6.20-26, where He calls the poor (not spiritually poor in Luke) blessed, and pronounces a "woe" to the rich.

Both the liberal and conservative are confronted with the Word of God, and it will be the judge of all of us on that Day. The Lord Himself teaches us that on that last day, he will judge THE NATIONS (Matthew 25.31,32)

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