Strange how many Christians believe in a non-judgmental Jesus, as if God is entirely uninterested in the consequences of behavior and the fate of the suffering. But if we only read a half-version of the Gospel focused on love, forgiveness and cheap grace, then we only end up encountering a Messiah of our own making. So, being reminded that the Good News is also, sometimes, critical news, we are confronted with the judgment of Jesus in today’s text.
What is Jesus judging?
Luke 16:19-31 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
The rich man’s lack of empathy.
The rich man’s refusal to share.
The Pharisee’s belief that God blesses the rich and curses the poor.
Susan, a lay speaker here in the mountains, was invited to preach at an area church. Instead of getting dolled up in her Sunday best, she put on her Sunday worst. Didn’t do her hair; didn’t bother with her makeup; didn’t change out her weekend sweatpants. She showed up for worship at the tall steeple church and sat down in back pew. The service started, the people piled in, and no one greeted her. Meanwhile, the church leaders were frantic about the missing preacher. What are we going to do? What are we going to do? Right before the sermon was about to begin, Susan stood up from the back, walked down the middle isle and stood in the pulpit. She began, “Many of you are my friends, we know each other, but today I went unrecognized, ignored. I experienced how this church treats outsiders.”
Everyday of the week, including Sundays, the rich man flaunted his purple robes while the naked tried to cover up; everyday he lounged on the comfort of linen sheets while the sleepless tried to rest on cardboard mats; everyday he dined at the buffet of gluttony while the hungry competed for crumbs. Everyday he left his mansion, opened his gate, stepped over a pile of rotting flesh and open sores and crippled legs, and never bothered to look down.
Of all the ways God could have come among us, Jesus took up residence on earth as a homeless man waiting at the gates of privilege, hoping that someone would finally take notice. But the rich man never acknowledged God dressed in rags, never recognized it was Jesus all along loitering on the corner of poverty as Lazarus. And for his mistreatment of the poor, his inability to be compassionate, and his lack of vision, he was judged.
If we are damned by what we ignore and saved by what we see, then the Gospel is forever confronting us with who we refuse to look at. According to today’s parable, it is too late for the rich man, but not for us. So, for heaven’s sake, let us open our eyes while we still have time to see the beggar Jesus hiding in plain sight.