Thursday, 27 September 2007

the rich man and his brothers Luke 16 19-31

In the story at the end of this chapter there is no middle man - there is a rich man and a poor man.

But in the place of the manager the rich man has created a great gulf between them that lasts for eternity. This rich man is seriously rich; he dresses in imported clothes, the purple of emperors, and had sumptuous feasts every day. The word gate implies he lived in a large mansion. Cities had gates, houses doors. But the word gate immediately triggers another meaning. The gate was traditionally the place of judgment

At the place of judgment lay a poor man. Unlike the rich man he is named: Lazarus, helped by God. This poor man sits there because since the rich man has feasts

every day, every day it would be likely that the scraps of bread that were used as napkins to clean tables would be thrown out every day. Dogs gathered there for the same reason. The rich man was

so rich that he turned “necessities of life into disposables.” The fact that the dogs licked Lazarus’s wounds made it even less likely that the rich man would want to help him. The association between dogs and excrement made them unclean.

Both die. The rich man is buried, presumably with all ceremony and spices. The poor man’s body would have been thrown on the rubbish tip, otherwise known as Gehenna (hell). However, at this point the story of the great gulf

gets turned inside out. It is the rich man who calls Abraham his father who seems to be languishing in the place of refuse where the fires never go out, and the poor man who had no funeral who is in the arms of Father Abraham (the great patriarch of hospitality). In life Lazarus longed for crumbs, in death the rich man longs for a drop of water. But the same great gulf still exists between them.

Indeed the rich man has not changed. He still is trying to issue orders: “send Lazarus” he says,

as if Lazarus were still his errand boy. He is not to be counted as a brother. Abraham refuses. He is right. Even if he sent Lazarus back the brothers would not notice him. No doubt there was already another Lazarus at the gate, lying, dying, unnoticed in the gutter while the rich passed by on the other side. The world has never lacked a Lazarus. Until the poor are recognised as brothers the world will always be as it is. The word of God had constantly come reminding the world that it exists in community. But it has been ignored. So long as there are those who think there is no such thing as society, fires will burn, hells created and suffering continue unassuaged. That gate we erect behind which we can safely contain the poor is no less now than in the days of Amos a place of judgment.

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