lazurusI’m starting to be uncomfortable preaching from Luke’s Gospel because his Jesus keeps talking class warfare.  Doesn’t Jesus understand how the economy works? According to Fox News, The Rich Man is a job creator.  Jesus should read Forbes contributer Harvey Binswager, who wrote this week that we should stop taxing anyone making over a $1 million per year as a way of saying “thank you” for creating all the jobs.  Guys like Lazurus need to realize that the rich man has been working tirelessly on his behalf to create more jobs, and if he would just get off his butt and step away from the gate, he could start to make his own way.  Fox News would add that Jesus just doesn’t understand how the poor think.  If you give Lazurus a hand out like Food Stamps, he is going to just go buy a lobster with it, and probably spend what is left on meth.  After all, where do you think he got those sores?  Jesus does such a great job when he tells people to stop sinning, be responsible for themselves and then they will get to heaven.  Heaven is his franchise, and he should stick to what he does well.  Save souls and leave the economy to the job creators.


I would like to just focus on the care of souls this morning.  I would like to preach about the wondrous love of God, how to pray, how to forgive, how to love.  Instead I have been tossed this passage about the Rich Man and Lazurus, and there is no way to preach this without some sharp edges.  It would be irresponsible to preach this passage without noting that Congress has voted to defund food stamps and is ready to shut down the government over health care for the uninsured, a plan designed by Republican arch-enemy -Mitt Romney.  Christianity has no room for the self-righteous rhetoric of maker and taker, producer vs. parasite rhetoric,


Why is Jesus so hard on the rich man in this parable?  Is it a sin to be wealthy?  (A quick glance around our sanctuary would indicate that wealth has not been disdained in our history.  Our Tiffany window and cherry wood pews were not from the donations of poor farmers and chimney sweeps.)  We can’t simply use this passage to be angry at “the rich.” I admire Warren Buffett, the Kennedys and the work of the Gates Foundation.  Jesus could welcome the wealthy and had a disciple who was a tax collector.  The first Christian baptism was the eunuch treasurer for the Queen of Sheba, so having wealth does not make you evil.  Luke’s Gospel and the prophets represent the left wing of Bible that demands justice for the poor, and Genesis and Proverbs the right wing which notes that wealth is a blessing of God given to the righteous for their faith and hard work.


I read Martin Luther’s sermon on this parable written in 1522.  He notes that the text does not condemn the rich man for any outward act, not robbery, adultery, murder or violence, or even that he got his wealth unjustly.  It doesn’t say he paid his workers unfairly, manipulated the stock market, or bribed a few Senators.  Luther writes, “We must not view the rich man according to his outward conduct; for he is in sheep’s clothing, his life glitters and shines beautifully, while he tactfully conceals the wolf.”  He reasons that if the man committed any glaring sins, the text would have told us so, and therefore we should assume that he led an outwardly exemplary life.


To understand why this man is consigned by Abraham to such torment, Luther says we must look beyond what today would be a Brooks Brothers suit, Gucchi shoes and personal chef.  Certainly other biblical figures were allowed great wealth, including Abraham became fairly wealthy himself by standards of his day, so why would he judge so harshly?  Luther says it begins in the heart, that that the man’s sin begins with being a lover of the fruits of his wealth, dining so sumptuously each night, that riches have become his true God, replacing any need for God.  It is the love of money that is the root of all evil.


Luther goes on to say that once someone loves money and no longer realizes a need for God, it is a chain reaction in the rest of their lives.  This is when the worst sins happen, not just the sins of the 10 commandments, but the subtle sins of omission.  The rich man suffers so terribly because he did not see Lazurus at all.  He did not believe he had any obligation towards him.  Lazurus was right there at his gate, so obviously in need that he could not stop the dogs from licking his sores.  Or perhaps the point is even dogs did more for Lazurus than the man of great wealth.  Luther reasons that the rich man has violated the Great Commandment, that because he loved his wealth he did not love God with all his heart, mind and soul, and therefore forgot to exercise love to his neighbor who was right at his gate.


Jesus emphasizes in the parable that while the rich man does not see till it is too late, he is seen all along.  The name Lazurus is the Greek translation of Eliazer.  Eliazer was a servant of Abraham, and in the tradition of rabbinical stories, he roamed the earth disguised in rags, watching to make sure people were taking care of widow, orphans and beggars.  So this scene in heaven is the revelation that this poor beggar at the gate was really Abraham’s servant who was there to keep watch on this rich man’s conduct towards his poor neighbor.


So as this unnamed rich suffers in Hades he looks up at Abraham and his servant Eliazor and pleads for mercy, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.”  So even in Hell this man still sees Lazurus as his servant.  He does not apologize to Lazurus for ignoring his suffering, but rather now asks Lazurus to serve him in his discomfort.  He still doesn’t get it.  Even in Hell it is all about him.  Abraham has to explain to him that there is now a great chasm fixed between them that no one can pass.  Of course, that chasm existed long before, because it is the canyon carved by the rich man’s blindness, his complete inability to see Lazurus as his neighbor, even when he suffers in Hell.


Do we see other people as neighbor or not?  When we see someone poor, do we see through ideology and prejudice, or do we see our neighbor?  After eight years of running homeless programs, I will admit my own times of blindness to people.  After dealing with many people suffering from addictions and feeling manipulated, I could be hard sometimes and pre-judge people.  Some days there was so much suffering, I just got tired of looking.  I had to keep reminding myself and our staff to pay attention to each person’s humanity and dignity, and some people really made that challenging.  You won’t find me romanticizing the poor, but you will hear me emphasizing the Gospel imperative to love neighbor.


I also learned how hard it is to get out of poverty.  Today a job is not a ticket out of poverty.  Many people on Food stamps are working or the children of the working poor.  This week a study came out about Walmart workers in the state of Wisconsin.  Walmart is the loophole leader of the labor market.  They hire workers for less than 30 hours a week, so they don’t have to pay health care benefits and then instruct their employees on how to get government assistance.  The study found that the workers in an average Walmart in Wisconsin receive at least $1 million annually in benefits per store.  That means all taxpayers are subsidizing Walmart’s low wage practices, and since there are three members of the Walton family among the richest 10 people in America, I think they can afford to pay a living wage with health benefits without your and my help.  A living wage equals loving your neighbor on a societal scale.


Just as business has a bottom line, Jesus has a bottom line – love your neighbor – and no loopholes.  Jesus does not make it a sin to have wealth, but he is clear that money can get in the way of our relationships with others.  This is where we are all challenged by the parable.  Before you leave this morning, I challenge you to think of one way that your views on wealth and money get in the way of loving your neighbor.  Challenge yourself to be open to knowing your blind spot, where you overlook Lazurus at the gate.