The Rev. Patrick Keyser
Jesus said, ‘“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on 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.’ But Abraham said, ‘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.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
It is easy to read this story and make the simple conclusion that we would behave differently. We would show mercy. We would not be like the rich man. Or would we? All of us have encountered Lazarus in our own day, and if we are honest with ourselves we will see that we too have ignored need and suffering right at our doorstep. Though we might not want to admit it, it often seems easier to pretend that the person asking us for money or food is not actually talking to us or that we didn’t hear them. We do so, I think, not out of malicious intent but because we seek to avoid confronting pain, hardship, and suffering.
Jesus calls us to a different way of being. Remember his words from earlier in Luke’s gospel: ‘blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled’ (Luke 6:20-21). This story of Lazarus reminds us that the poor are close to the heart of God, and it wonderfully embodies the great reversal of which Mary sang: ‘[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty’ (Luke 1:52-53).
Jesus invites us to draw near in love and service to those in need. Yet at the same time Jesus reminds us that we, too, are poor and suffering in our way. Only in embracing our brokenness and drawing close to God will we experience Jesus’ words of blessing as the truth that they are: ‘blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer p. 826)