Rich or poor? Comfortable or afflicted?
Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
The Gospel parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus is a challenging story of reversal and contrast: rich versus poor, feasting versus hunger, finely dressed versus sore-covered, elevated status versus seemingly forgotten.
It continues the Lukan themes of the Gospel being a word of hope first spoken to and through the poor and marginalized (Mary, shepherds, etc.) and of the challenges and dangers of earthly wealth. In this parable, Jesus seems to be exercising that old preaching adage of "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable."
One of our modern challenges is that most North American hearers/readers do not so easily self-identify with the rich versus poor labels.
I am blessed to live in a parsonage in a traditionally blue-collar, but now economically diverse, neighborhood of nearly identical Baltimore row-homes without driveways. The houses all look the same and no one can tell your status by the kind of car you drive. There are single architects and college professors living next door to houses with multigenerational families of minimum-wage earners.
But even in the wealthier and poorer communities where I have lived and served, few identify with the extremes of this parable. The wealthier say, "I am not as rich as Bill Gates." Those struggling with poverty say, "At least I am not homeless."
It is important to note that there are also global challenges from this text. There is a saying that if you have more than one pair of shoes, you are rich from a global perspective.
There are places in this world today where there are clear and strict divides between rich and poor using class or caste systems (as my brother living in India has learned).
Often in teaching and preaching, I find it helpful to approach a text by initially exploring the questions: How was this text heard or read differently in the time of Jesus, by the first-century church, and by the church in the 2,000 years since, and today?
How are these texts confronting wealth and poverty heard and preached differently in the midst of a Great Recession than even just three years ago?
Beyond the issues of wealth and class raised by the text, there are more questions:
- How do we deal with the reality that it has been nearly 2,000 years since someone (Jesus) rose from the dead, and there are many who are not convinced?
- Has the great chasm between us and God, in Christ Jesus, been fixed, not as meaning set in place forever, but fixed as in repaired, restored and bridged?
Pastor Michael A. Dubsky is executive director of the Lutheran Home and Hospital Foundation Inc. -- a foundation that gives out grants supporting health and wellness ministries -- and has served for 10 years as pastor of St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore. He and his wife, Kristin -- also an ELCA pastor -- are the parents of two beautiful children, Sarah and Joseph.