In the Saturday edition of the Tagesspiegel, yesterday a week ago, I read an interesting article with the headline: How much does Berlin earn? Six persons speak about their wages and how they can manage their life with this income. The top earner, a member of the Senate, gets 6.657,- € and the last one earns not even 1,- €. Somehow like today's gospel: There was a rich man ... and lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus. Please, note at once the difference: In the story the poor man is introduced by name. The other, jolly fat and feasting fellow is just anybody. That's exactly the opposite of what we are used to. The VIPs, whether politicians, football stars or pop singers, make sure that their name is constantly in the headlines. The poor are simply the poor, asylum seekers, refugees, homeless, and nobody cares to know them by name. But God's eye looks at society in a different light.
Next point, the story asserts: God will not allow this situation, rich above poor, to continue for ever. After death Lazarus finds himself at once in the lap of Abraham. His counterpart, who obviously had never cared for the poor Lazarus at his door step, finds himself suddenly in pain, far on the other side. Being used to give orders he continues doing so: "Father Abraham, send Lazarus here to cool my tongue”, but in vain. Now it is too late to be master.
But let us not judge him too harshly. At least for his brothers, his family, he is concerned. They should be warned not to follow him, not to follow his selfish style of life, not to follow him into this place of torment. Now listen to the answer he gets from Abraham: “There is no point in warning them again, they have their warning. They have Moses and the prophets.” They have been told clearly enough how to live and how not to live. Does this not suffice?
“Oh no”, says the rich man to Abraham. “If someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” “Sorry, you are mistaken to believe that”, replies Abraham. “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Now this is the most interesting point of the whole story. For the idea of someone of the dead coming back to warn the living is not a fanciful idea of an ingenious storyteller. No, it is something that has in fact occurred. Christ is risen from the dead! This is the basis and core of our faith. Jesus Christ died and was raised by the Father. Jesus really continues to speak to us. But those, who do not listen to Moses and the prophets, will not listen to Jesus either.
Here we see the situation of the early Christian community. They remembered this story that Jesus had told them one day, and they wanted it to be recorded in the gospel to be preserved. For the story explains to them why especially among the people of Jerusalem there were so many who did not believe the news that Jesus had risen from the dead and was appointed by God to be LORD. The story explains why so many choose to have nothing to do with Jesus' message. No wonder, “those who do not listen to Moses and the prophets will not listen to the Risen Lord" when his apostles continue to convey his preaching to the world.
Hence, the idea of the rich man that someone from the dead should come to warn his brothers was not far fetched folly, but a truly visionary hope. Only, he overlooked that there is one preceding condition. People must first be ready to listen to Moses and the prophets. They must get out of their laziness of fun and comfort, the laziness which Amos reproaches: “Getting fat and drunk and having plenty of fun while caring a damn about other people and the word of God.” No word from God can do us any good, unless we desire to listen to it.
I am sure, we got the message this story has for us. With a little bit of personal thought each one can catch the point.
As an afterthought, when reading the brief life descriptions in the newspaper article I mentioned in the beginning, one point struck me: The most happy, content and carefree of these six persons was Sister Miryam of the Carmelites. She earns no money at all, - of course she has not to lie with the dogs at anybody's doorstep like Lazarus -, but nor does she have any desire to be dressed in purple garments and fine linen and to dine sumptuously each day. Amen.
Fr. Dietmar Lenfers MAfr