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Sunday 25 September 2022: Trinity 15, Twenty-sixth in Ordinary time, Proper 21

Will you look and see?

Luke 16:19-31

By Rebecca Sparey-Taylor

Mission Area Leader in Denbigh Mission Area, St Asaph Diocese, Church in Wales

Context: Eucharist in rural North Wales, with established elderly congregations that are starting to see growth from new younger families

Aim: learning to see others as Jesus sees them

INTRODUCTION

There was once a very rich man who was visited by a rabbi. The rabbi wanted to know if he would make a donation to the poor, but the rich man refused. So, the rabbi asked him to look in a mirror and tell him what he saw. ‘Myself, of course,’ he replied. Then the rabbi asked him to go to the window and look down to the road below and describe what he saw. Mystified the man walked across and looked down and described the different people he could see going about their daily lives. But why did the rabbi want to know, because they were doing the things they always did. ‘Exactly,’ replied the rabbi, ‘if you look through a window you see life, if you look in a mirror you just see yourself. But a mirror is simply a piece of glass backed with a piece of silver. That piece of silver hides from view anything but yourself. In the same way the silver and riches that you own have hidden from you everything else. You do not see the plight of the poor and the vulnerable, or even God.’

We all use different excuses to avoid looking and seeing the real plight of the vulnerable. ‘They will just use our money for drink and drugs.’ ‘They want to be homeless.’ And the rich man in Jesus’ parable was just the same. He didn’t even notice the poor man lying starving at his gate each day, desperate to just eat some crumbs from the rich man’s table. He chose not to see him.

RETELL THE PARABLE

But God saw him. God even knew the poor man’s name, Lazarus. He had called him by name. He was precious in God’s sight. Suddenly there seems to be a role reversal as both men die. Lazarus goes to heaven. The rich man to Hades. This isn’t what should happen. Rich men are rich because God has blessed them greatly. The rich man was able to look up from his place of torment to see Lazarus. He even made an effort to remember the poor man’s name. ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to look after me, and aid me in these scorching flames, I am in agony.’ He might have remembered to use Lazarus name, but his attitude had not changed. He cannot see beyond himself and his own needs. He was still better than the poor man. Lazarus still only deserved to be his slave.

But Abraham looks down upon the rich man, even now not using his name. ‘Son’ he shouts down, ‘you have already had so many good things, whilst Lazarus has suffered. There is too big a chasm between us for Lazarus to come and help you now.’

In desperation the rich man tries a different tack: ‘Send Lazarus to my brothers to warn them so they won’t end up being tormented here too.’ But Abraham is adamant that if the brothers haven’t listened to the prophets, they won’t listen to someone who has risen from the dead.

DEEPER MEANING

Suddenly the whole meaning behind the parable changes. It isn’t about being rich and poor after all, although how the rich treat the poor is obviously important. It is about something much deeper. Would the Pharisees listen to Moses and the prophets and hear what they were really saying? Not their own interpretation of the Law, an interpretation that created a stumbling block to so many, but to hear God’s message through it of love and compassion. Would they be like the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son when the father tells him that his brother was dead but is now alive, but he doesn’t want to know. He can only see his own self-righteousness and importance. Or would they be willing to stop and to listen? When Jesus rose from the dead would it make a difference? Would they realise that they were treating Jesus, just as the rich man treated Lazarus? Would they let their hearts be changed and renewed by returning to God? Would they be willing to be part of God’s topsy turvy kingdom where the poor and the vulnerable are lifted high? Where even the unlovely become the beloved? And what about us? Are we willing to peel away the silver on the back of the mirror and see the places in our community where God wants us to be?

 

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