Year C Proper 21 Luke 16
Neighbors Who Never Met
The Rich Man and Lazarus were neighbors, you know. They saw each other every day. Oh, not socially you understand, but there was contact. Every day the Rich Man saw this beggar at his front gate. Who were these men?
We shall call the Rich Man Dives [pronounced ‘Dive-ees': it's Latin for "Rich Man" as he has been called for centuries] Dives would have felt very comfortable living in our present time. He was a progressive kind of a guy. He was self-indulgent and this is the age of self-indulgency. The contrasting life-styles of these two men is so obvious that you can't miss it. Dives was a connoisseur, a lover of the arts, one who knows and appreciates fine living, four star restaurants.
We are told in vs. 19 that he habitually dressed in purple. Purple was known as the color of royalty because it was the most expensive dye in the ancient world. Only the upper echelon and the high priest could afford it. We are also told that his undergarments were made of fine linen. Linen, the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
The other man in the story is Lazarus. How can we describe Lazarus? Lararus is homeless. We are told in vs. 20 that he was a cripple. Lazarus barely made it from day to day, living off the leftovers thrown to him by Dives as he daily passed him. He is just a survivor, that's all you can say of him.
One day, said Jesus, both men died. Death after all is the great equalizer. Death does not care about your social standing, your color, or your standing in the community. Lazarus, said Jesus, was carried away by the angel of death unto heaven, where he occupied the seat of honor next to Abraham. About Dives, the rich man, all that Jesus says is that he was buried. Isn't that strange that that is all that he says? After all, Dives funeral must having been something that the community would remember for years to come. Apparently, however, that fact failed to impress Jesus. Oh, Jesus did add one additional fact about Dives' death that may be of interest to you. His soul was sent to hell.
This is an unnerving story. I can well see why this was the irritating grain of sand in Albert Schweitzer's oyster. Why is this story so bothersome? For a few moments this morning I would like to share exactly why. It is bothersome because...
- First, it shows how God reverses the standards of the world.
- Second, it is a terrible fate for a man who was not mean.
- Third, the rich man begs to warn his living brothers.
Jesus the Toxicologist
Any of you know a hoarder? I don't mean somebody who can't throw anything away. I mean somebody who keeps to himself everything he has and can't let go of anything.
In today's gospel parable the un-named "rich man" lives a hoarder's life of prosperity and extravagance. He luxuriated in exhibiting the power of his wealth by hosting exquisite banquets every day. He demonstrated his wealth by dressing in the finest, most expensive clothes.
Yet he also hoarded his wealth by refusing to extend alms, feed the poor, help the sick, house the homeless. He so hoarded his wealth for his own personal use and power that he allowed Lazarus, who was poor, sick, and homeless, to lie right at the gates to his estate, without even considering offering him care, without even entertaining the notion of extending a helping hand to him.
In late August of this year 67 year old Billie Jean James, who had been missing for four months, was finally found. Her husband found her dead in their own home, buried under one of the mountains of trash that filled their house from top to bottom.
Billie Jean had been a "hoarder," compulsively stuffing more and more "stuff" into her home, filling up every room with strange collections of this and that, incapable of throwing anything, even garbage, away. The stench of trash and decay was so great in this "hoarded house" that not only did the husband live there for four months without noticing the smell of a decaying body. Even police rescue dogs, trained to detect the smell of a dead body, never detected her presence. It was not until the husband finally noticed Billie Jean's feet sticking out from under a mountainous pile of trash in the room she had named her "rabbit hole" that his wife's body was finally discovered.
If you've seen the hit reality tv show "Hoarder," you know that hoarding is now a recognized psychological disorder, defined as "when people find it impossible to make decisions, organize themselves, or focus on immediate tasks" (Michelle Carro, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Nevada). This past summer was a tough one for hoarders. In addition to James' death there was another 89 year-old hoarder found dead in her cluttered home in July. It took the Skokie, Illinois fire department three hours to remove her body. And an elderly couple in Chicago was trapped for two weeks in their junk-infested house. When they were finally rescued both were covered with rat bites.
It's easy to look at such "hoarding" behavior and see it as a sad, strange, out-of-control obsession that is certainly not the life experience of most of us. The power of a sanitation worker's strike and our over-flowing landfills testify to the fact that most of us love to throw stuff away, not hoard it.
Yet would any of us deny that our culture is firmly established on the premise that "more is better." "More is better" is the basic recipe for addictive behavior that can take many forms.
For hoarders more "stuff" is better, no matter what that stuff might be.
For alcoholics more drinks are better, no matter how many they've already had.
For drug addicts one more snort, or smoke, or shot is better.
For anorexics one more lost pound, even one more lost ounce, is better.
For food addicts one more bucket of chicken, one more large pizza, is better.
For those whose addiction is money, there is no such thing as "rich enough."
For those whose addiction is power, there is not such thing as "power enough."
Jesus was variously called "teacher," "rabbi," "master," "wonder worker," "messiah." But I would suggest that what Jesus really practiced was "toxicology." Jesus was a toxicologist...