On January 12, 2010

Looking for Lazarus

The Gospel of Luke has always been one of my favorites. Luke tells the story of Jesus with an eye toward the oppressed and those on the margins of society. And he makes sure that his readers know that this is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. To care for those that are easily overlooked. Like Lazarus.

In chapter sixteen, Jesus tells a story about a rich man. A man who dressed in purple, the color of royalty. He ate well, and lived well. He had everything a man could want, but a name. Juxtaposed against the story of the rich man, Jesus tells a story about a beggar named Lazarus who laid at the rich man’s gate. And all he wanted was the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.

But he never got them. And he died.

But death is not a respecter of persons, and it didn’t matter how rich the man was, he eventually died too.

But this story is just getting warmed up, because after death their fortunes are reversed. The rich man is in torment, and Lazarus is in paradise with Abraham. Now it’s interesting that It wasn’t until the world to come that the Rich man even noticed Lazarus. All those years he had stayed outside his gate, and he never saw him. But even in the next life he doesn’t really notice Lazarus, he just notices something about Lazarus.

Namely that Lazarus is doing better than him.

So here the rich man begins to wheel and deal. He begins to suggest some changes to his accommodations, namely room service. And when all his demands are denied the Rich Man has one last request. He wants Lazarus to go back and tell his brothers about the age to come.

And Abraham says no.

Now you need to know that this kind of story was by not unique to Jesus. It was a similar genre to other stories that were out there. Instead of Boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl, it was men die/roles are reversed/request for message sent back home.

But in all the other stories this request is granted. That’s actually the point of these type of stories, if people returned from the grave they would tell us how things were on the other side. But the point Jesus is making here is huge.

And it’s a point that makes sense when we see that this story is told by the same Jesus who is consistently taking criticism for welcoming outcasts and people on the margins. The point is this world, here, now. The parable Jesus is telling makes perfect sense in light of the life he is living.

Because He is, in the words of N.T. Wright, “Putting into practice in the present world what was widely believed would happen in the future one.”

Remember this is in a section of the gospel where Jesus is receiving criticism for hanging out with the wrong types of people. And this was one of the many stories that he was responding with. Part of the reason Jesus tells this story, I think, is because the religious leaders had become future-oriented. They were attempting to live a holy life so that God would send the Messiah and set the world right. And the particular brand of holiness they had bought into didn’t involve the people on the margins.

Re-read this story in light of this. Jesus is telling them that Abraham himself (who was kind of a big deal to Jewish people) was telling them to care for the marginalized now.

And this is one of my largest frustrations with religion. It can become a way to baptize the status quo by concerning itself with only the future. But there is a huge difference between escapism and the Christian hope. Without hope, activism will lead to despair. But without doing something, hope is abstract.

Hope needs some skin on it.

Jesus word to the religious leaders is a word to us. Abraham’s word is a word to us. Lazarus is out there. Right Now.

Are we looking?

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  • http://westcoastwitness.com/ Wes

    I appreciate the way you put this.

    I do believe Christianity is future oriented. Paul’s comments in Philippians 3 and other places show that it was for him.

    But we’re also expected to do our best to make the world a better place in the here and now – that’s part of the Christian mission.

    I do have a problem when people minimize the importance of eternal salvation and tout “doing good” (i.e. meeting the felt needs of others) as being the end all of the Christian mission.

    I’ve had this discussion with others, and believe we must be very careful not to minimize the importance of reconciling souls to God. It is my opinion that some Christian leaders today are putting a lot of emphasis on charity work but never getting around to telling anyone about Jesus or encouraging others to. That’s a problem.

  • DecaturJeff

    We were discussing faith and works tonight in our class. To me, it’s a silly discussion but understand where it comes from for people. Anyway, as I try to live each day in submission to God I will notice the poor, the oppressed, the hurting because as I live in total submission to God I will simply be a vessel he is working through and if he is working through me I will be helping those that he helped as he walked the earth. The trouble is when I fall out of submission to him and live in submission to my desire.

  • Phil

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for this post; this really hits home as I prepare a brief sermon series on Nehemiah. Where I want us to start is to “notice.” Notice what we have been neglecting in our own city. Notice that we have “gotten use” to the problems because we know they will always be there. Notice in a way that we have become John the baptist in prison; forgetting the intended purpose of what the body of Christ is suppose to be doing.

    Then perhaps when we notice, like Nehemiah we will be devastated. And this devastation will lead to action; perhaps our broken hearts will lead to active mercy.

  • http://www.stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Hey guys, sorry to behind on responding. I’ll try to do better. Wes, you’re right there is another tense to our story, and the danger of losing hope in the age to come is that it loses the fuel for this one. Following Jesus is not just humanism in Jesus name, but a deep hope for the entire world to be set right. Starting right now…

    Jeff, good words. Grace when it’s what God intended, flows through us to others.

    Phil, I think one of the most miraculous things Jesus did in his ministry was notice others. Think about the people he interacted with, that he allowed to interact with Him. I love the story in Luke 7 of the sinful woman. Jesus rebuttal to Simon was “Do you see this woman?” Good stuff.