Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Rich Man's End

More on the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31): 
We hear this same parable every year on the Thursday of the 2nd week of Lent, which somewhat personalizes the parable for the priest as he reads Jesus’ condemnation of the rich man dressed in purple - when he himself is, of course, conspicuously dressed in purple.
Other than his wardrobe, we know little about the rich man – just that he was rich (which was why he could afford expensive purple clothes) and lived in his own wealth-constructed world that psychologically separated him from the beggar Lazarus. He could, perhaps, have been one of the complacent in Zion, whose self-indulgence and conspicuous consumption the prophet Amos harangued against. Or, as I wrote yesterday, he could be almost anyone in any prosperous, consumerist society. Disconnected and indifferent, he seems very modern. His wealth-constructed selfish world resembles the way so many live today.

But then the man died. In fact they both died, as indeed we all will. It is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment – says the Letter to the Hebrews. This is the only parable in which Jesus speaks so specifically about what we now call “the particular judgment” – the once and for all judgment of each person immediately after death, a judgment which (as the parable pointedly illustrates) simply confirms the kind of person one has become over the course of one’s life.
And so, in the case of the rich man, the great chasm his wealth had constructed between himself and Lazarus in life is now confirmed as permanent in eternity. Who I become now, in the span of time allotted to me in life, is who I shall be forever.

The parable ends with the rich man asking Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his 5 brothers. Something of that sort famously does happen in Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. There, the rich man himself (the ghost of Jacob Marley) returns to warn his business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, who does indeed repent in the end. Abraham, however, is not Dickens. “They have Moses and the prophets,” Abraham replies. “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
The intended irony of the parable is, of course, that someone has, in fact, risen from the dead – Jesus, the teller of the parable. Knowing that is meant to make the point of the parable that much more urgent for us who hear it today.

So, are we listening?

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