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Lectionary: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
The following dialogue was scripted by Walt McCanless, but with Joanna Hipp’s involvement with the Justice Coalition due to the protests in Charlotte, he asked Joanna to speak instead of using the following… if you read through the script, you will also be able to read Anne Wood’s Prayers for the People.
Jeremiah 32, 1-3, 6-15; 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; Luke 16:19-31
From 1 Timothy 6 we learn that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, and Paul instructs Timothy to warn folks who aspire to be rich of that fact. And for those already wealthy, Paul advises that they do not put their trust in their money, but use it for doing good, becoming generous, and thus building up a strong foundation for the future. Advice almost diametrically opposed to that which we hear from our wealth managers and financial advisors these days.
Jeremiah acted much like Paul was advising when he purchased the field at Anathoth from his cousin. A terrible investment from a financial point of view – the land was occupied by the opposing forces, the Babylonians, who held the city of Jerusalem under siege. That land was useless. The Jews, Jeremiah included, were soon to be deported, shuttled off to various destinations in the Babylonian empire. Yet, Jeremiah obeys the word of the Lord and buys, invests, in the land. Why? Because God said they were coming back. Jeremiah was investing in the Divine Promise, even though the reality on the ground looked terribly bleak. He put his money on God, invested in hope.
Riches, wealth, money can be used to do good, and can be invested in God’s divine promise. But wealth can also make folks blind. That love of money can shutter the eyes to most all else, or let them see only with contempt all that is of lesser value, including the least ones of society, the “Lazarus-es.”
In the Dives and Lazarus parable – Dives, the rich man, has a problem seeing…. he’s looking over, beyond, through, and around Lazarus. He’s wealthy, he doesn’t have to look at lazy beggars if he doesn’t want to. He can build a wall, with a gate…. he can live in a gated community. So, Dives doesn’t see Lazarus, he doesn’t see the Lazarus-es of society.
To bridge the gap we first have to see that there is a gap, a gaping chasm, and there are folks on the other side. Seeing opens the door to doing, but without seeing, any doing will be accidental, haphazard and blind. And that was the problem in the parable Jesus told about a rich man, Dives (Latin for “rich man”) and a very poor man, Lazarus. The contrast was acute. Dives very wealthy, with a whole room of the finest clothes (purple, by the way, was the most expensive dye made, it came from a particular kind of shellfish and was quite costly), and wore 500 thread count linen underwear, and had a whole separate room for his sandals. He didn’t just eat, he feasted, sumptuously, every day, probably inviting all his friends, maybe his brothers too – we find out later he had five of them – and their families…. Every day, the food was all laid out, cooked and prepared by servants, who also cleaned everything up…. it was like living in the finest of hotels… only he owned it all. On the other side of the gate, which by the way, was no ordinary fence gate. It is the word for the gate in the walls surrounding a city, or the entrance gate to a palace. This guy was shekels up. But on the other side of the gate was Lazarus. Poor, covered in sores therefore unclean, an outcast. Hungry, made worse by being able to see the feast on the table in the rich man’s house, perhaps even making out the crumbs as the fell to the floor. “Even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs,” declared the gentile woman to Jesus, but Lazarus wasn’t even a dog, but the dogs did come and lick his sores. The chasm between them in life was as wide as it was after death. And without seeing, specifically, without Dives seeing Lazarus, the pre-death chasm was just as impossible to cross as the post-death one.
Dialogue: Lazarus (LAZ.) and Father Abraham (ABE.)
LAZ. “Another day another sore. I’m just a sore-loser…. ha, ha, ha…. I am a comedian too, get it: “sore” loser. Still, I’ve got a good spot here in front of this gate. Lots of folks with money walk by. Some toss a bit my way. And there’s that fellow who happens by about once a week and drops a $5.00 gift card to the Cafe’ Shalom in my basket. I think he must own the place. Gotta know I’ll never be able to use it though, they’ed boot me outta that swanky spot so fast it might spin the sores right off my body. Hmmm, I might have to try that spot some day.
There was the guy the other day who brought me some water, that was nice. And two days ago a cute little girl asked her mom if they could take me home and give me a bath. “Yeah honey, take me home, please!” Or maybe, You, O Lord are ready to take me home? It’d be a relief, O God, a real relief.
(pause, then continues…)
“What’s that smell. Oh man, old Dives has fired up the barbecue again. The smell is going to drive me crazy. I remember the last time he got his big bbq trailer smoking…. the whole neighborhood was invited and there were an awful lot of folks coming by. Good for the begging business, I suppose, but what I would give for a taste of what that mouth-watering smell is all about. Maybe this time someone will drop off their leftovers with me. Let me gnaw on a bone or something…
(pause, then continues…)
“I know he knows my name. I remember the day he asked his gardener who it was that was sitting out by the street in front of his gate. He knows who I am, but he never acknowledges that I am. When he leaves for work, or a business trip the gate opens, the out he comes, he looks left and right and right past me. When he comes home he goes straight in without ever so much as a glance my way and the gates shut behind him. I’m invisible to him. I used to stand and stare in disbelief. Later, when he was coming or going, I’d do things like bend over to straighten my mat, or jump up swat the air as if bitten by a horsefly; something to see if I could get him to look at me. Nothing worked. I guess he figured that if he acknowledged my presence he’d have to help me, give me a few bucks, or take me in; but that was never happening.
“Hey! What’s that? Get away from me! Shoo! Get! Can’t a guy sit here without being hounded by dogs all the time….. Ha, Ha, Ha… hounded by dogs. Get it. Bet they’d like a bone or two from old Dives BBQ too…. and they probably stand a better chance of getting one than I do. Dog gone. Ha, Ha, Ha – get it? Dog gone – and they’re gone!
“O jeez, here come those kids again. Kids can be so cruel to any they think beneath them. That includes me. Last time they spit, kicked, and scattered my coins all over. They’re coming fast. I better grab my mat and move across the street, maybe they won’t cross the street after me.
(pause, then continues…)
“Father Abraham! What are you doing here?”
ABE: “Well my son, I should be asking you that question. Look around you. You’re not there any longer, but here; with me. And I’m so glad you are.”
LAZ: “But, but, how’d I get here?”
ABE: “You may remember trying to get out of the way of those kids, and you thought that heading across the street would make you safe. What you didn’t see was the Roman Centurion barreling down the street in his twin horse chariot. You didn’t stand a chance. You were dust. Dust to dust.
LAZ: “I don’t remember any of that.”
ABE: “That’s probably for the best. Though you were barely breathing when they came to take you to the hospital, they couldn’t find an ID or insurance card on you so they just hauled you to the morgue instead. That’s where the angels found you and they brought you home, here, to me.
LAZ: “But what did I do to get here? I mean, I’m Lazarus, the “sore-loser.” No one wants me. I’m just a big sore on the community, I’m a sore point people argue over….. where should the homeless be – uptown, a blight and hindrance on the city’s urban renewal or out of the way on the westside, say, out of the way of progress? I’ve done nothing, been a nobody all my life, survived up to now anyway, but why? And why am I here?”
ABE: “I put in a good word for you.”
LAZ: “You did that for me?”
ABE: “I put a word in for all my children. You had it so hard while there, and I wanted you to have it a bit easier now.”
LAZ: “Well I don’t know what to make of this. It’s even better than that little girl wanting to take me home and clean me up.
ABE: “She’s coming to join us one day. You can thank her for that.”
LAZ: “What’s that I hear?”
ABE: “Well, I wish it were the sound of the heavenly angels singing some gospel tunes…. Oh, when they crank it up on, “When We All Get to Heaven”… man, you gotta hear that. But that noise, that ceaseless chatter, all that whining and complaining is coming from below.”
LAZ: “Sheol? What’s that?”
ABE: “Don’t ask, you don’t want to know… and perhaps a more accurate question would be, ‘Why Sheol?’”
LAZ: “OK, why Sheol?”
ABE: “Cause some folks just needed a place where they could continue to harp on how unfair everything is, and how much good they would have done if given half a chance, and who’s to blame for just about every little thing they ever did wrong and why they would have done some good and kind things if they’d known then what they do now, and it goes on and on. So, though God didn’t want to, didn’t feel that it was in either his or their best interest, God almost had to create a place where all those who insisted on carping, complaining and criticizing and whining and so forth could go on doing so for as long as eternity, if they so desired.”
LAZ: “Sounds horrible.”
ABE: “Ha, Ha, Ha. Haven’t lost your sense of humor, I see. Indeed, both the place and the sounds are horrible.”
LAZ: “Listen Father Abraham, is that some one calling your name.”
ABE: “Yep. That’d be Dives, the fellow at whose gate you sat for so many years.”
LAZ: “What’s he doing down there. I thought for sure he’d be up here. He was important, wealthy, and fine church going man. Probably funded their new sanctuary, I’m sure he could have.”
ABE: “Those are exactly some of the things he’s complaining about. He wants a new hearing with the Almighty, he thinks there are some things missing in his file, some things we’ve overlooked.”
LAZ: “You keep files?”
ABE: “O yes. It’s all kept in the “clouds. ” But cloud storage isn’t all that secure. A lot does go missing and a good deal gets blotted out. I’ve spoken to the Almighty about this, even proposed some technical improvements to make those files more secure and stable. But Lord said not to worry, that he was quite aware that files are hacked and information goes missing or gets blotted out. Forgiveness is what he called it. Only in those cases when someone demands that all things be brought to light do we bring out the back up drives.”
LAZ: “So you do, ‘um…. forget some things and overlook others?”
ABE: “Oh my yes. As the Psalmist wrote, ‘if God were to keep a count of sins, how could anyone stand?’
LAZ: “Well, could you have overlooked some things in Dive’s file? Has he got a point?”
ABE: “You wouldn’t believe what all we overlooked. Reduced his file by at least two thirds. That’s not the problem. Forgiveness isn’t what Dives is after. He wants to prove himself right, or righteous. That’s a lost cause with the Almighty. You see, Dives himself overlooked a great deal in his life, you, for instance. And he still won’t see. The Lord can open the eyes of the blind, but for the blind who claim to see – well, that’s a different story.”
LAZ: “I don’t get it. You mean Dives is blind but doesn’t know it?”
“Blinded by his money, blinded by what all that money told him about himself – that he was better than others, that he was more important and powerful, and more right. Blinded by his social status and fame. Blinded by the praise heaped upon him, blinded by the lights of glory, rendered deaf by the deafening applause. Because of who he thought he was he could turn a blind eye to you and the likes of you. Oh, he could toss a few of his leftovers to help the likes of you in general, by giving alms at the temple, and being honored for it, I might add. But never would he help a person – in person. He couldn’t see the person. He couldn’t see you on the other side of the chasm created by his wealth. He couldn’t see you or any other on the other side of his gated palatial mansion. He was blinded by profit and loss, even his giving was governed by what he could get for it.”
LAZ: “What’s he saying?”
ABE: “He sees you now. Finally. But even now he doesn’t see YOU. He wants me to send you to him with some water to cool his tongue. The heat’s a bit much for him I think.”
LAZ: “Well, do you want me to go?”
ABE: “That’s very generous of you. You’re following the example of our Father who gave water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and even his Son for all.” But Dives is still not seeing very well, and I’m afraid all that money may have caused permanent near-sightedness. He now sees you, but he sees you as his errand boy. His nearsightedness allows him to focus on himself, but doesn’t let him see much of anything outside himself.”
LAZ: “But you put in a good word for me. Won’t you do it for him too?”
ABE: “O my son I will. But first I put in a good word to him. “Child,” I said. I wanted to remind him of who he was, and whose he was. “Child.” Child of mine, Child of the Father….. If he wasn’t so blinded by his own self importance, he’d be able to see who he really is, that he is dependent not on his money but on the generosity of His Father in heaven. The self made man has ears but cannot hear, eyes but cannot see, a nose but can’t smell, a mouth but can’t speak and worse, has no breath, no life, no spirit, no soul. To paraphrase the Psalmist, “those who make themselves, and trust themselves, make lifeless idols.”
ABE: “What else did you say to him? You had to have said something more.”
ABE: “Oh I reminded him of the good things he received… Did you get that, good things he received! All his good things were received. He saw them as earned, therefore as belonging to him. But if he could have seen them as received, that would have make all the difference. I think he’d have seen his way to giving generously, because he’d been given so much. But when one thinks he or she has earned it, then a grudging spirit seeps into any giving, and soon one isn’t looking to give at all, only to get, and get more. I reminded Dives that what you received was not so good…. and if he’d looked hard and seen that, he might have noticed the terrible disparity and realized that it didn’t have to be that way. He could have done something about that great gap, he could have bridged that great chasm and crossed over to meet you, look you in the eye, seen you face to face. Seeing is the beginning. But that was then, this is now. And the tables are turned.”
LAZ: “And, what did he say? Did he want to turn?”
ABE: “Well, there was a bit of light, he was at least thinking of his brothers back with their father. But I’m afraid that still he didn’t see you as anything more than his errand boy. Wanted you to go visit his brothers and warn them; do the ‘Scrooge’ thing, I suppose and scare them into acting a little better.”
ABE: “Hey, you want me to go? I’m ready. This could be sorta fun.”
LAZ: “No, they’ve got plenty of warning in the Law and Prophets. Moses puts it in no uncertain terms, tells everyone to look after the poor, orphan, widow, all those who end up on the losing side of the economy. The prophets are even more specific and point fingers at the rich warning them that unless they provide for the needy and outcast, they are no friend of God. It’s repeated over and over in Scriptures. Starts say back in Genesis with Cain’s answer to God’s question about where his brother was, he shot back, “Am I my brother’s keeper.” Cain had answered his own question by killing his brother in a jealous rage. That was the wrong answer. We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers, because they are brothers and sisters of Jesus, children of the Father. Whenever you give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, welcome the stranger, visited those in prison, clothed the naked…. well, you do it to their brother, Jesus. That’s plenty.”
LAZ: “But the Scriptures have gotten to be sorta like religious wallpaper, folks don’t pay much attention to them anymore. Don’t you think someone coming back from the dead will get their attention? They’d have to listen, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t that, if nothing else, scare them to action?”
ABE: “If they aren’t paying attention to Moses and the Prophets, they’ll only think, “ghost,” if someone rises from the dead. They’ll call it a hoax, a gimmick, or anything else that will keep them from having to alter their world view or lifestyle. They’ll credit it to Steven Spielberg, not to the power and gift of God. Nope, if they aren’t having their consciences molded by the Word already spoken, they’ll not be able to see, or hear, nor will they be convinced by someone rising from the dead.”
LAZ: “Well, can anything be done to save them?”
ABE: “Fear not, O precious one, as the scriptures day, ‘nothing is impossible for God.’” The chasms will be bridged: the great chasm between there and here, and the long lingering chasms between folks everywhere; that all may cross and see in the eyes of the other, we are each children of the same God and members of the same human family.”
LAZ: “Thy kingdom come, O God, thy will be done.”
Our Holy God, your faith humbles us. Help our faith in you to grow stronger as we worship you and study your word.
You provide us with so much in the beauty of your world. Help us to protect and preserve and honor the earth as a gift from you.
Thank you for creating us all in your image and for making us your very own children. There are those who seem different from us, but we know they are our sisters and brothers and that we share the same hopes and needs in finding joy in this life.
Seek us out and repair the broken doors of our hearts to be opened to include all who belong to you. Tear down our arrogance and closed walls and let us trade them for love and acceptance of each other.
Like Jeremiah who heeded your words and purchased the field at Anathoth, we have the promise that we will be redeemed. Let us put our trust in you and look forward to the day when we are all brought back from the fringes of confinement and are set free in you.
Make us aware of neighbors who suffer and grieve and let us offer them comfort and aid.
Our riches are in you, O, God and our treasure in your kingdom.
Comfort those who are sad and worried beyond relief. Enable us to reassure them that you are near.
Give wisdom to those who are the leaders of states around the world that shake and rumble with discontent and injustice. Grant us insight as we elect our own leaders and look to you alone for discernment in making our decisions.
You have sent your own son Jesus Christ to save us from our selfish and sinful ways and it is in his name we pray these words…) “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed it be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.