by Ray Gentry
If last week’s text was a struggle to suss out exactly what Jesus was trying to say, this week’s is quite the opposite. Summing this parable up as “Poor Guy Hero/Rich Guy Villian” is too broad a description - this parable is really about the rich guy.
I think that ends up being an important point. It isn’t uncommon for the parables to be used to bless the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized while excusing acceptance of the status quo. In this reading, despite being the only named character, the poor man dies and is carried away by the angels. It’d be like naming the John Wick franchise after the puppy - it carries all the context, but isn’t what the story ultimately focuses on. There is no discussion about Lazarus’ worthiness - he’s poor and is thus carried to by angels to his ancestors.
In addition, the reading doesn’t spend a second dissecting the rich man’s life - he’s nameless and is nothing other than wealthy. Luke’s Gospel has already established its position on poverty, wealth, and economics. Really, this passage is the exclamation point of the sentence Luke has been writing. The narrative flows without hesitation. A rich man dies, period. Immediately following he’s in Hades being tormented. There isn’t a moment spent examining his actions, there isn’t a word justifying it.
There is no surprise if we remember earlier in Luke:
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”
Luke unashamedly recalls Isaiah setting up the birth of Jesus. Isaiah (especially without a lens of supersessionism), examines who God is, who God’s people are, obligation to the poor and oppressed, and calls out corruption. The reading from Luke harkens to Isaiah particularly in its dismissal of the rich, powerful, and self-righteous.
Set aside the uncertainty of last week’s text. This week leaves nothing to sort or struggle through. Some texts elicit a struggle through the nuance. We don’t have that this week.
Do you want to call out greed? Call it out.
Do you want to indict the hoarding of resources? Indict way.
Do you want to lament how easily we forget the poor? Lead your congregation in that lament.
The Timothy, Psalm, and Amos readings all focus on the accumulation of wealth. This is a Sunday to confront our congregations. What is wealth, what does it mean to be rich, and what is the poverty around us? We are not called to feel bad for the oppressed and poor - or at least not just that - we are called to not store for ourselves while others around us suffer.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.