Lazarus may well have lain outside the gate of the rich man but he was comforted inside the gate of God.
Among the many differences between rich and poor, one might be that the names of the rich are known individually, at least according to the Richest 100 list. In this story (Luke 16: 19 – 31), it is not the rich who are known by name. The only one known by name here is Lazarus; and, he is hardly the celebrity with whom people would want to be identified or the one whose name would be found in people’s desirable contact list. While the rich man was covered in the finest clothing, Lazarus was covered in boils and sores. While the rich man feasted sumptuously, Lazarus was desperate even for the crumbs from the table.
However, despite his situation of degradation and despair, Lazarus is the one known, called and welcomed within God’s gate. Yet, on reading the story, we have to recognise that the rich man is not accused, nor condemned, as a result of any named sin. Likewise, Lazarus is not accredited as righteous because of anything he has done or not done.
On reflection, perhaps, the rich man has been found wanting due to being blind to the suffering reality lived by those outside his gate. He has done well. He might even convince himself that he has his riches due to his own hard work. Or the hard work of others whose riches have been inherited by him. He might even believe his riches are a sign of God’s blessing on his life. Yet, he is the one whose name is not known and who finds himself outside the gate of Heaven and within the gate of Hades.
Equally, the story does not say what Lazarus may have done, or not done, to be comforted with such heavenly blessing. There is no mention of faith or works, simply position in the world, as one who is destitute and suffering. How those tables were turned. Here, the rich man has become the beggar and Lazarus has his name called out to join the Kingdom feast. Yet even in the judgement and condemnation, there appears no malice against the rich man. The chasm has been set and it is just not possible to cross it.
It is also interesting to note how Lazarus does not speak for himself. He does not have to. The angels, Abraham, God, and the whole company of heaven, have become his spokespersons, advocates and comforters. Meanwhile, as the rich man speaks, he does so isolated by himself, without an advocate or comforter or community of hope.
So, as we move towards this coming week, I wonder how aware are we are of our riches of possession and possibility? How blind do they make us to the Lazarus’ of the world, those who remain outside our churches’ gates and on the other side of any fixed chasm of privilege and position? Does God even know our name? What more than the chasm crossing risen Christ is needed to convince us, and our world, of the need to be known by him?
Convinced, at the end of the day, may we each be known to God individually by name, carried by the angels and welcomed within the gates of the heaven to his table of life.
Lord, have mercy…