There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 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.'
Sometimes Jesus tells a parable that is so confusing that even centuries later scholars, preachers, and more are still trying to figure out what exactly he meant (see last week's devotion.) Sometimes Jesus tells a parable that is so obvious it hardly bears interpretation. This week's lectionary passage is one of the latter. The obvious moral of the story here? Pay attention to those who suffer now, and do what you can to alleviate that suffering, or it will be your turn in the end.
Yet even with the obvious lesson spelled out so clearly for us, there is still a lot to unpack and explore in this story. What struck me this time was the way the rich man views Lazarus even in the afterlife - as the rich man suffers torment and Lazarus hangs out with Abraham, the rich man still sees Lazarus as a means to his own ends, rather than as his own person. First, he asks Abraham if Lazarus could come over to put water on his tongue, to relieve his suffering. When this is denied he asks Abraham if Lazarus could be sent to his brothers, to give them a "Christmas Carol" type experience so they might repent and avoid this suffering fate.
Both times the rich man seeks to use Lazarus to make his own life or the lives of those he loves better. He doesn't seek to get to know Lazarus, to apologize for the way he treated him in life, or acknowledge him as a fellow human being in any way. I think this shows the rich man's true sin. There is a quote by an unknown author that goes like this: "People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The world is in chaos today because things are being loved and people are being used."
The rich man ignored Lazarus in life and seeks to use him in the afterlife - and woe to him for doing so. Where are you ignoring people in need in your life? Where are you falling prey to our society's tendency to love things and use people? Look for at least one way this week that you can make sure you are loving the people around you, even, or perhaps especially, those you might prefer to ignore.
God of the rich man and Lazarus, help us to get our priorities straight. We seek to listen to the lessons you bring to us now, in this life, that we might love people and use things, as intended. Forgive us when we get it wrong, and set us on the path to righteousness. Amen.