The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, ‘Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the Lord: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it;
Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High •
and abides under the shadow of the Almighty,
2 Shall say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my stronghold, •
my God, in whom I put my trust.’
3 For he shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler •
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with his wings
and you shall be safe under his feathers; •
his faithfulness shall be your shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, •
nor of the arrow that flies by day;
6 Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, •
nor of the sickness that destroys at noonday.
14 Because they have set their love upon me,
therefore will I deliver them; •
I will lift them up, because they know my name.
15 They will call upon me and I will answer them; •
I am with them in trouble,
I will deliver them and bring them to honour.
16 With long life will I satisfy them •
and show them my salvation.
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
the notables of the first of the nations,
to whom the house of Israel resorts!
Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;
who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Praise the Lord, O my soul:
while I live will I praise the Lord; •
as long as I have any being,
I will sing praises to my God.
2 Put not your trust in princes,
nor in any human power, •
for there is no help in them.
3 When their breath goes forth, they return to the earth; •
on that day all their thoughts perish.
4 Happy are those who have the God of Jacob for their help, •
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
5 Who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them; •
who keeps his promise for ever;
6 Who gives justice to those that suffer wrong •
and bread to those who hunger.
7 The Lord looses those that are bound; •
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
8 The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; •
the Lord loves the righteous;
9 The Lord watches over the stranger in the land;
he upholds the orphan and widow; •
but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
10 The Lord shall reign for ever, •
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Jesus told this to his hearers: ‘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.” ’
Sermon on Eighteenth Sunday ofTrinity
The parable we heard today is known as “The Rich Man and Lazarus” (or for those whose leanings are towards the Latin “Dives and Lazarus”). This is one of the most striking stories Jesus tells, isn’t it? Everyone has heard this story. But what is the nub, the heart of this story? I think there is a question central to this story.
The query at the heart of the parable is this – what are the relations between rich and poor? How can anyone be hard-hearted towards the ‘down-and-out’? Why do we pass by on the other side? As the hymn goes, ‘when I was hungry and naked, were you there?’ I think the story has even wider implications than just charity toward the other person down on his or her luck. It calls up the ethical dimension of being in the world – our nexus of interaction, where we can be positive or negative in how we affect all the others within our reach, and beyond.
Of course this is a problem the philosophers have thought about long and hard on before I ever began cogitating on the implications of my solicitude toward the stranger. I am a rich man, so how do I treat the Lazarus all around me?
The philosophers say our cursory, “Hello. How are you?” is a shorthand for the whole of the heartfelt enquiry I should make of everyone. Such a superficial greeting connects both parties for a split second and reveals the solemn nature of the relationship which any chance meeting on the street signifies, for instance as I go to buy my sausages for supper. In the twinkling of an eye we can delve into the very pain of life, if both of us wish. This is the nature of conversation and dialogue. This what a ‘meeting’ is, isn’t it?
But is this the case in the way we ordinarily behave? Doesn’t the fact that Jesus tells this story speak to our purely negative behaviour toward the other person? Doesn’t the fact that we feel ill at ease when we hear this parable confirm our own bad behaviour towards other people in our day-to-day lives?
Even the dogs in the parable treat Lazarus better than the rich man, for they licked his sores to comfort him. But our lack of succour toward the destitute at our door is not the only condemnation. Jesus speaks about Dives in Hades, he had died and he was in Gehenna, where he was tormented. He asks for a drop of water from Lazarus’ fingertip to soothe him, but that was denied because of the gulf between the realm of Abraham and Hades. No person was permitted or is able to cross that boundary between heaven and hell. – So the story goes. Does this, I wonder signify the boundary between individuals? Is the gap between rich and poor the same gap which is between one person and another? Is that the gap between Abraham and Dives?
But let’s step back a moment. Jesus’ saying was repeated amongst his believers, those who knew better. They knew that Jesus had crossed the great divide. They also knew that such an event had cosmic significance. They knew that a better standard of behaviour was expected of them. The law is to be fulfilled, isn’t it? The law which demands we treat others well, with the love we have for ourselves.
That, I think, is the significance of Jesus’ statement, “[Your brothers] have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” Even those who do not believe in Jesus have models of behaviour to inspire them positively. Moses gave Israel the ten commandments, why do they not listen? The prophets condemned evil at every turn, why has Israel not heard their words? Jesus is condemning everyone for their guilty behaviour, that sinfulness arising from the lack of care for the other. All because Jesus has bridged the gap between heaven and hell, between God and me. Ultimately, I think, he has bridged the gap between us, between you and me. But, I wonder, is that too philosophical a view?
I suppose another way of looking at this parable, is that it explains why the rich man “dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day”. Dives relied on being a child of Abraham for his rescue from evil consequences of his lack of care, his hardheartedness toward the poor, his blindness to the world around him.
The rich man was tormented in Hades, but I think he was tortured also by his own conscience finally – the rich man thought that nothing mattered in his life because he had Moses as his forebear. That connection alone, he thought, would save him from any future torment. In Hades he now wants to warn his brothers. He wants them to act well and deserve their place by Abraham’s side.
This story is an explicit condemnation of everyday behaviour which is inherently negative, behaviour we ignore because we expect to be saved in some way because of a past connection. Dives expected that, precisely because he was a Jew calling upon his ‘Father Abraham’.
But the moral dimension, which dressing in purple and fine linen and feasting every day signify, raises itself when the last moment comes, when the rich man finds himself in the position of Lazarus, when all is complete and he has to look on how he behaved through the course of his life. Judgement on the quality of his life is being given.
The Great Reversal has occurred. Lazarus is raised and the rich man begs for mercy. Can we ensure that we do not suffer the same fate? We are the rich west, yet we ignore the cries of the poor east. We are the rich in this country, yet we ignore the cries of the poor in our own country. How can we escape the judgement Dives received?
Will we languish in Hades because we have not pitied Lazarus? The poor will always be with us, so we should do something for them. After all, they will inherit, won’t they? There will always be beatings, so we must succour and soothe the wounds, just like the good Samaritan. Our world is one of pain and grief, it is our duty to care. We must open our eyes and act out of love, something Dives did not do. The rich man in the parable only enjoyed his own pleasures, wearing his fine linen and enjoying his sumptuous meals every day. Do we do the same? But how will we make a difference? How can we ensure that, by foregoing those pleasures of the rich man, Lazarus will be comforted and saved? The parable tells us the answer. It is not in code. It is not hidden. The parable does not obscure the course of action we should take. In essence Jesus tells the rich man, “Heed the words of the law and the prophets.”