In A Rich Man's World
Sunday, 29 September 2019 09:00
Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed (Luke 16:26)
“Money! Money! Money! Must be funny in a rich man’s world
“Money! Money! Money!, Always sunny in the rich man’s world
“Aha-a-a-a-a-ah all the things I could do
“ If I had a little money - it’s a rich man’s world”
I know. I’m utterly indistinguishable from the Abba girls. “It’s a rich man’s world”, the song goes and it goes to the heart of the story of Dives and Lazarus that we hear in the Gospel of Luke. Incidentally, the rich man in the story is only traditionally known as Dives - it’s simply the Latin word for ‘rich man’. It’s a striking detail of the story the way Jesus tells it - this man for all his wealth lacks even a name in the story. That’s reserved for Lazarus - the poor sick man who sits begging on the streets outside the rich man’s house.
“Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed” says Abraham. Who fixed it? In life Dives had lived the life of Riley with all the trappings of wealth you could wish for. He’s dressed in purple - the colour of emperors. He feasted sumptuously every day. This is a guy so wealthy that he wants for nothing. What does he know of the life of Lazarus? Does he care about him? Does he do anything to see that he’s OK? No. He doesn’t even give him what falls from his table. He lives in the rich man’s world and that puts a gulf between him and Lazarus that he doesn’t even attempt to bridge.
Lazarus, the story goes, sits begging at the rich man’s the door and we can imagine the rich man hurrying past him every day, barely noticing that he’s there, as every day, comparatively wealthy people - maybe people like you and me - hurry past the huddled figures on the streets of our cities helplessly waving polystyrene cups. What are they to him? It’s almost as he’s a different species. It’s telling that, even when Dives knows he is condemned to Hades he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to offer help - not to people like Lazarus - but to his brothers who belong to that same stratum of wealth that he belongs to.
That is the chasm that has been fixed between them - it is a chasm in the heart of Dives that his wealth has created. He has lived in the rich man’s world and has become so estranged from the world of people like Lazarus that he just doesn’t care. What has Lazarus’s suffering and poverty to do with him? Longing to eat the scraps from his table - that’s the politics of envy, isn’t it? Surely if Lazarus just got himself cleaned up and got a job he could one day be as wealthy as Dives. See those sores? Maybe he’s on drugs. Maybe they’re a sign of a dissolute life of drunkenness and debauchery. Don’t look at him. Don’t look him in the eye. Walk on by and pretend he doesn’t exist.
This is the chasm that has been fixed between them. Dives lives in the rich man’s world - a world in which he doesn’t have to worry about where the next meal’s coming from, doesn’t have to think about where he’s going find shelter for the night, doesn’t have to fear coming of dark. What does he know of the life of Lazarus? Maybe there are people like Dives in this world - people who are so insanely wealthy that they have no connection with the likes of Lazarus. Maybe you don’t have to be insanely wealthy - maybe you just have to be wealthy enough to walk past someone like Lazarus without a pang of conscience and the haunting thought that there, but for fortune, go you or I.
That’s why Jesus has Dives call out to “father Abraham”. In the tradition of the Jews they were all descendants of Abraham - the man whom God had promised more descendants than there were stars in the sky. He misses the irony in asking Abraham to send Lazarus to serve his needs when, from Abraham’s perspective they are both kin to one another. He is asking Abraham to send Lazarus to do what Dives should have done with the wealth and other gifts that he has - to serve. To look after Lazarus as a suffering brother.
That’s what we can do as human beings that makes us brilliant. We can set aside the chasms that we set up so easily in our hearts and recognise that we are kin - whatever the differences between us. We can look after each other and care for each other - we can serve each other - regardless of our status or wealth or social position. We can serve even strangers. Let me tell you two stories I read this week.
In the wake of the Thomas Cook collapse a flight was flying back to Manchester. The pilot came over the tannoy to tell the passengers what had happened. His voice was trembling and you could hear the tears in his eyes, “We’ve just heard. We’re all redundant. We don’t even know if we’ll be paid what we’re owed. Sorry. Not your problem.” When the plane landed a wee Scottish lass near the front of the plane stood up and said, “Right! Whipround! Minimum twenty quid”. Five thousand pounds raised for people the other side of a barrier that none of the people on that plane had seen.
An old white guy stood at the top of an escalator, infirm on his feet, scared to step on. A young black guy - someone, perhaps, as different from him as he could be - takes his arm and supports him all the way down.
A young woman from a fairly well-off background becomes a nun and intends to live in an enclosed order, cut off from the world, but finds on the streets of Calcutta a calling to care for the poor and the hungry of that city - people like Lazarus. Yes, she is different from those people as it’s possible to be - she doesn’t share their language or their culture or their racial background and yet she sees what Dives doesn’t see. That they are kin. That’s Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
We are all wealthy. We all, to one extent or another, live in the rich man’s world. We are all tempted to live like Dives and to forget Lazarus. We are all tempted to put getting more stuff ahead of looking after and caring for each other and for those whose need seems so intense that we want to turn away from them. We are all tempted to buy into the stories that tell us that need is sign of moral weakness.
We are at our best, though, when we step over the chasm and recognise that Dives and Lazarus are brothers; that we are all the children of God, that we are all descendants of Abraham, that we are all - all of humanity in its wealth and poverty, its power and its weakness, its diversity and its unity - the creation of one idea: that love trumps all the boundaries and chasms that we set up in our hearts.
We are at our best when we recognise that the rich man’s world is no better than ours and that what makes us brilliant, what makes us truly human in the best sense of the word, is that capacity we have to reach across the chasms we construct between us - chasms of wealth and status and race and language or whatever - to love and serve one another as children of God, made in the image of God. If the love of money is, as Paul suggests, the root of all evil, then love itself is the root of all good in this world.
Father help us to set aside the divisions caused by wealth and status. Help us to see one another as brothers and sisters - as family and descendants of Abraham - serving one another as your Son came to serve and redeem.
Preached at Brydekirk parish church