Amos 6:1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:6-19
What do you love about money? Some people love that money can get them things—jewelry, houses, boilers. Some people love that money can give them power, because if they can use their money to give things to people, the people might do things they want them to do. Money and its use give us labor, in every form, from the empowering to the degrading. Other people, like me, love that money can give them security: a place to live, food, perhaps enough for retirement, if you’re lucky enough to have some golden years, without passing any debt on to your children. What do you love about money? And, of course, there is the side of those who don’t have enough money, and the way that lack feels. Is that loving money too much? And how does it feel to consider, as it is written in the first letter to Timothy, that this love that we have for money, each of us in our way, is the root of all kinds of evil?
What is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. We cannot see what God wants, but there’s a line of Luther’s that I think fits these texts today: “it’s not the things but our eyes must be changed.” For us to see as God sees, to love what God loves, God must change the way we see the world, the way we take it in, what we value, what we love. That’s why Paul calls Timothy a man of God. God has changed his eyes to see what God sees, to love what God loves, to work for the rewards that only faith and love and godliness and gentleness can bestow. And that, I think is the point of the parable for us today.
Take the way Jesus presents it to us. He gives us the story someplace close to the rich man’s perspective. One man is covered in the finest clothes. The other is covered in sores. One man eats the finest food, at a rate almost beyond the imagination of the typical person of Jesus’ time—the other has become food for the dogs, who slobber over his bloody sores. The rich man lives in a great big house, with a wall encircling it, and a strong gate keeping the undesirables out. Lazarus lays by that gate, as was the practice of the poor, hoping for a handout, too weak even to beg. Which one is blessed by God? For some it’s obvious it is the rich man—you can see it in his clothes. And even this, still held by many today, is tempting. Scripture does speak of the material rewards for the righteous, and the material doom that awaits the unrighteous. Even the letter to Timothy seems to speak in those ways—ruin and destruction. And it is quite possible that the rich man believed he was righteous all the way to the end precisely because he was rich.
Even in death, he has not changed. Even though the flames have not melted his heart. Even in Hades the rich man still rests in his social and class biases, and he assumes the poor man is no man. I don’t particularly want to enter into the ancient understanding of the geography of the afterlife here, but the rich man and Lazarus both go to the same place, just different locales. The rich man goes to a place of torment, while Lazarus is welcomed into the bosom of Abraham, a very rich man to be sure, but a man who did not have a gate and shared the best that he had with whomever came his way. Even in Hades the rich man cannot ask Lazarus for water, because he thinks Lazarus is beneath him. Instead he asks Abraham to do it. But Abraham cannot cross the chasm between his table and the rich man’s fire. The rich man cannot cross the eternal chasm for a drop of water, because he would not cross his own gate to give even a crumb to Lazarus as he lay suffering at his walls.
And then, just to prove how impossible it is to become free from wealth and to change your heart and your eyes, Jesus says that the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus, again as if Lazarus were still a tool for both his use and Abraham’s, a slave to his betters, to his brothers to warn them what may await them. But Abraham says they could listen to Moses and the prophets like Amos, who constantly said it was the job of the rich to take care of the poor. But this is a special family, special because of their wealth and their privilege—and so the rich man believes that his family needs a special witness, something more theatrical and daring and beautiful than the plain old Scriptures. But perhaps the rich man forgot that he and his brothers never once paid a thought to Lazarus when he was alive—so why should any of them recognize him if he came back from the dead? And anyway, it is not the things but our eyes must be changed, whether is the words of Scripture or the dead rising to life, if we never change what cannot be seen, we will never change what we can see.
This is a story about visible things and invisible things—what is precious? I suppose we could first listen to Jesus and turn to the Scriptures to hear what they have to say—the man, bloody at the gate of the rich man, the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with perfume. The signs are there for us in Scripture, in Moses and the prophets, in the stories of Jesus, but especially in his resurrection from the dead, where all the powers of sin and oppression, all the armies of death, met their match in the boundless love of God for the whole world. Not the things but our eyes must be changed—And God does change us from inside, his grace working on the invisible parts of us, our minds and our emotions and our hearts.
God must change us to fit at the table of Abraham, and God does change us. God changes us without our earning it so that none of us can cross that chasm on our own. So, God must change us with a gift, that grace that will not leave us alone or keep us the way we were, but will change not only our eyes, but our hearts and our hands.
What does God value? God values most preciously a small crumb of bread, the size of a portion that Lazarus never got. God values a single sip of wine, not to quench our thirst, but to put an end to the torments of our souls. I believe the precious gift of the sacrament can change us, that just as we are to look to Moses and to search the scriptures, Christ can be revealed for us at this table, where all of us, rich and poor, gather in the grace of God to share God’s gifts. God changes us at this table—we do not leave as we came. I see it every Sunday. Do you?
The Reverend John Zachary Flack