This week’s Gospel lesson might be the most dangerous one in the three year lectionary cycle. It is the early days of Stewardship season, so there will be a strong temptation to make the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man about giving money to the Church. The problem with that analogical approach is that not a few congregations and likely all national and multi-national denominations are more like Dives (the pseudonym for the Rich Man) than they are Lazarus. If you are going to make it about giving, then it ought to be about caring for the poor, rather than keeping the lights on, the doors open, and the clergy person’s pension funded (Says the clergy person with a really nice pension plan).
The risk in making it about caring for the poor is, of course, preaching a sermon on work’s righteousness. This parable feels like the lesson is that rich people go to hell and poor people get into heaven, but rich people can make up for their richness and find rest in the bosom of Abraham by giving to the needy. This is, of course, patently untrue and verging on the heresy of Donatism. When it comes to parables 1+1 rarely equals 2.
Even as we wish to make Lazarus the hero in our story, Jesus is clear that he too is not without sin. While Dives fails to love his neighbor through choosing to serve mammon instead of God, Lazarus is said to have “longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table.” Literally, he coveted the rich man’s crumbs, which, while a sad commentary on the stark division between rich and poor, is a clear violation of the 10 Commandments. Lazarus was a sinner, but by the grace of God and his usefulness for a parable illustration, he goes to heaven where he serves as a foil for Father Abraham to teach about the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is a place where those who have suffered on account of their own failings, the failings of others, and sometimes, just downright bad luck, feel the warmth of God’s loving embrace. And, despite what this parable might seem to indicate, the Kingdom of God is also a place those who have made others to suffer based on their own arrogance and greed have the opportunity to feel the warmth of God’s loving embrace. On the other side of the River Stix, the chasm may be fixed and unable to be crossed, but the love of God is bigger than anything I know. Just like in the parables, the Kingdom of God is a place where 1+1 isn’t always 2.