The Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 10
‘Besides all this, 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, and no one can cross from there to us.’ Luke 16:26
Once, serving as a hospital chaplain, I ministered to a woman who was struggling with addiction. She wanted to change, she said, but she didn’t think she deserved it. Meanwhile, the staff who came into her room were patronizing and condescending at best, and downright rude at worst. They did not seem to believe she truly wanted to change, nor, I felt, that she deserved to change. She had made her bed, as it were. According to the common wisdom of Jesus’ time (and many other times), people get what they deserve. If one person had excessive wealth, they probably deserved it. If another person was poor, diseased, reduced to begging, they must have been sinful, somehow having earned this existence.
But the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man challenges our assumptions about what people get and what they deserve. If the common wisdom were correct, then the Rich Man must have earned an eternity in the bosom of Abraham. Yet it is the “undeserving” Lazarus who rests there in the afterlife. In this parable, Jesus is turning common wisdom on its head, and insisting that we do not, in fact, get what we deserve. Or rather, that “deserving” has nothing to do with it. At least, not when it comes to worldly shows of wealth and success.
What matters, once again, is “who is my neighbor?” Lazarus was the nearest thing to a neighbor that the Rich Man had, at least in terms of
distance. Yet the Rich Man could not imagine Lazarus as a neighbor, simply because he was so poor, so apparently “undeserving.” The hospital staff I worked with could not imagine their patient as their neighbor because she was so captive to her addictions. Yet we are all captive; captive to our
assumptions about others, captive to our definitions of neighbor, captive to, well, to sin. And we cannot free ourselves. But we have a Savior who is
working at every moment to cross the chasms we cannot, to release us from our captivity.
Prayer: God of reversal, You promise to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, and to bring release to the captives. Release me from the things that hold me captive: fear, anger, wealth, desire. Grant that I might live in the freedom that You have granted, inviting others into that freedom as well. Amen.