Luke 16:19-31 (16:28) – September 25, 2022
Have you seen homeless people begging for money? Every so often I encounter them, along busy street corners, next to off ramps from expressways, along bustling downtown sidewalks. Often, they hold hand-printed signs with heartbreaking requests for money. So often, the passersby rush right past. I must confess that I often drive or walk right past them, too.
Today’s Gospel reading about the poor man Lazarus and the uncaring rich man is meant to make us a little uncomfortable. Even, a lot uncomfortable. Jesus spoke more about money than about faith and prayer combined! Jesus was so concerned with people’s attitude toward money, possessions and finances – and we ought to be, too!
I also want to point out the close connection today’s reading has with a reading we associate with Christmastime. Or, more correctly, Advent. This second reading from Luke chapter 1 is Mary’s song, the Magnificat. This reading also makes us feel uncomfortable.
Both of these Scripture readings reference rich and poor, reversed. Both of these powerful readings turn things upside down. Talk about Topsy-Turvy Teachings!
Let’s look first at the rich man and Lazarus. This parable of Jesus is different, because it names one of the major characters. Plus, this parable makes the rich man anonymous. He, or, in today’s egalitarian view, she, could be anyone. “He could be the one Jesus was accusing of loving money. He could be those who have when they are surrounded by those who have not.”  One of the big points Jesus makes in this parable concerns the gulf that exists between the haves and the have-nots. This parable shows us how huge that gulf can be!
Let’s think more about that name: naming the character with a real name, not just “such-and-such” or even “John Doe.” Does giving him a name cause us to relate to the poor man better? Just think about the concept of knowing and using a person’s name. Names can communicate respect. Not just some faceless, nameless, anonymous one.
Doesn’t using their name also show we recognize their worth as a person? What’s more, their name shows that we give them dignity! And, doesn’t every human creation of God deserve some dignity? 
In my work, I often go into skilled nursing facilities. Some of the patients in the facilities are very sick, very sad, and have very little in the way of money. We can view these dear human beings as being extensions of the poor man mentioned here in this parable. Sometimes these poor and indigent patients receive very little in the way of visitation and attention, too.
I am friends with someone who is on Social Security disability. He lived in a studio apartment in Rogers Park. Yes, he had a mental illness diagnosis, and yes, it was controlled with medication, so he was able to live a somewhat normal life. But, he was on the edge of poverty, and was almost like the poor man Lazarus from today’s parable. I lost track of him around last Christmas. He just stopped answering his cell phone, and I did not know where he had gone.
Imagine my surprise when I just happened to come across my friend several months ago in one of the skilled nursing facilities I regularly visit, in Rogers Park. I was really relieved to find him, but really sad to see him there, an indigent patient with no money and no resources. And recently, he has disappeared again. I hope and pray his sister in Crystal Lake brought him to live in a skilled nursing facility out near her house. I can hope and pray for him and his situation.
Let’s switch gears, and turn to Mary’s song from Luke chapter 1, the Magnificat. Talk about reversals! Listen to several verses from this song that Mary sang after the angel came to her and told her that she would be the mother of the long-foretold Messiah: 50 God’s mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
Mary tells us through her song that “The poor are filled with good things, and the rich are sent away hungry;[she clearly states that] brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. Here it is acted out in the parable Jesus told to those who were ridiculing him because they loved money more than God’s kingdom.” 
I suspect you all can understand that this message did not go over too well. The Rabbi Jesus was not popular at all with the rich people and religious leaders of His day And, I doubt that Mary would have been very popular either, given the reactionary nature of most of the Magnificat. Talk about topsy-turvy!
One of the main problems in both of these readings from Luke is the gulf between rich and poor. This gulf is not only an actual one, in terms of money. (which is serious enough!) “the gulf doesn’t seem fixable in that life. This means that it can only be crossed or closed in this one. Jesus is calling all his listeners to pay attention to the gulfs that exist in our world. How do we close the gulfs between the haves and the have nots? How do we close the gulfs between those who hold power and those who live on the margins? How do we close the gulfs . . . or how do we cross them?” 
Does this church build bridges to cross that gulf? Not only with the financially poor, but what about those with mental illnesses? (which sometimes can be in similar situations!) Does our church include both the folks with financial stability as well as those who are not, and who go to the Niles or Maine Township food pantries? Does our church include the people with mental health diagnoses, who often are also on the edge of poverty? Do we have ministries at our church for those who are struggling? These are serious questions, and ones we all need to grapple with.
Where are you in this parable today? Where am I? This is a serious question, and one that I am seriously considering.
Thank God our Lord Jesus is willing to help us! Willing to give us a hand when we ask, willing to assist when we start new ministries. God bless all those we encounter in our daily journeys, wherever they may be on the financial spectrum or the mental health spectrum. God be with us, every one!
(Thanks to umcdiscipleship.org for their excellent notes and commentary on this week’s Gospel reading. Another reading in the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)