There is a natural tendency to place oneself inside a story. This is perhaps especially true in the parables that Jesus tells. I suspect it is because they are both generic and hyperbolic, it is easy to read oneself into the story, to stay there for a while, and to feel what is happening. Of course, who we think ourselves to be in the story will have a large impact on how we interpret it. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the meaning of the story can change drastically if you think of yourself as the injured traveler or the Levite, rather than everybody’s favorite Samaritan.
As we read the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man this week, I can’t help but think that the gut reaction of most listeners will be to place themselves in the role of Lazarus. Very few people actually consider themselves to be rich. It is very easy to push that title at least one tax bracket above our own, and given the erosion of the Middle Class and the ever-widening chasm between the haves and the have nots in the last 40 years, it isn’t too difficult to place oneself as a beggar, lying outside the gates of those who wear purple, and step over you in order to feast sumptuously everyday.
Very few of us will place ourselves in the position of the rich man, and to be Abraham would be awfully presumptuous, but this morning, as I read my usual preaching resources, I realized that I’ve always missed a character in this story. Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, points out in her commentary that maybe our place in this story is the brothers and sisters of the rich man. We have Moses and the Prophets. We even have one who proclaimed a ministry of compassion and rose from the dead. Do we have ears to hear? Do we have eyes to see? Or, are we too busy making excuses for our lack of compassion; pretending instead to be the sore-covered beggar by the gate?
Who are you in this story? The answer seems to be of eternal consequence.