In today’s New Testament lesson, Jesus tells a parable about a wealthy man who’s very proud of his elite status. Curiously, we never do learn his name – although centuries ago, some church father gave him the name of Dives, which means “rich man” (but the name’s not in the biblical story). I don’t think Jesus intended to name him at all. The only character in the parable to whom he gives a name is Lazarus, the poor beggar who squats at the rich man’s gate, covered with sores. This is no insignificant detail. Think on the implications of it: the only character in the story whom Jesus – the one who intercedes for the faithful before the throne of God – knows by name is the miserable beggar!
Think of all the people you and I encounter, day by day, who have no name. Certain people are all but invisible to us: yes, the ragged, wild-haired panhandler who sits on a city sidewalk, jingling his cardboard coffee cup filled with coins. But there are others. There’s the stocky man from south of the border, silently riding his bicycle down the street. There’s the young woman from Eastern Europe, standing behind the supermarket cash register, moving the items of food we will eat, one by one, over the bar-code scanner. There’s the resident of the boarding home down the street, who’s only able to cope with life because of the pills her doctor prescribes – medicine that makes her fearful, all the time, fearful even of you and me....
We come, now, to the most chilling words in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: “...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.” The one who speaks those words, in the parable, is Father Abraham. He speaks them to the rich man, roasting in the fires of hell, wishing that Lazarus would come down to him and bring him just a drop of water on his little finger, to cool his parched tongue.
It’s a curious thing, in the story, but the rich man knows Lazarus by name. For, unlike those untold millions of the desperate poor of our world – who live their short, agonizing lives and die without so much as attracting our attention – Lazarus has lived his starving and sore-covered life squatting on the pavement outside the rich man’s door. Maybe, as he walked into his magnificent house, the rich man would toss him a shekel now and again. But he never did a thing to lift Lazarus out of poverty, this man who lived so close to him, he even knew his name!...
“Between us and them a great chasm has been fixed.” In the parable, the chasm runs between heaven and hell. Nothing can bridge it, for the distance is simply too great. Here on this earth, the separation is not as significant. The possibilities are before us – hundreds of them, every day – to simply open our eyes and see that Lazarus squatting outside our gate is just like you and me.
- Carl Wilton, from a sermon, "The Great Divide," preached at Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, September 30, 2007