Say their names

25 September 2016
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 21C (RCL)
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

This week, Luke and Jeremiah switch personalities. Jeremiah holds out hope, while Luke speaks a word of condemnation. Zedekiah has asked Jeremiah why he is prophesying destruction against Jerusalem, and not any hope. In the verses we leave out, Jeremiah reminds Zedekiah that there is not point fighting against the Chaldeans, because he won’t win, but then goes on to give assurance that land will again be bought and sold in Judea.

The language of this transaction has echoes of the land transaction described in the Book of Ruth. Jeremiah has the first right of redemption, that is, buying back the land for the family to whom God had given it in the first place. The land transaction is about the means of production. There will come a time when people will farm the land again, producing the abundance for all which God had intended in the first place. The land will not end up in the possession of the crown, but of the people of the land.

The story in Luke, on the other hand, expands on the then-current understanding of the resurrection. In the resurrection of the just, the just would be given a renewed kingdom, and life would go on as it had been intended. Here, even the unjust are resurrected to eternal punishment. The story borrows from several Greek examples (hence the place name, “Hades”), and shows an interaction between Hebrew and Greek thought.

Interestingly enough, the rich man is never named in the story. Lazarus has a name, but is a cardboard character: he never speaks. He is a foil for the poor in the land. In the Gospel of the Hebrews, when the rich young man asks what he must do to inherit the kingdom, Jesus responds by asking what is written in the law. The rich young man recites the law, and says he has kept it since his youth. Jesus replies that obviously he has not, or there would not be poor in the land. If the rich man in this story were keeping the covenant of Abraham as explicated in Moses and the prophets, Lazarus would not be begging at his gate, but eating at his table.

The standard wisdom was (and often still is) that good fortune is a sign of the favor of God, and conversely, misfortune is a sign of God’s disfavor. In that case, God has clearly favored the rich man who feasts brightly every day, but not Lazarus. However, the resurrection reveals a different order of things. But, according to the exchange between Abraham and the rich man, Moses and the prophets reveal the same order of things, and if someone is not convinced by Moses and the prophets, they won’t be convinced by the resurrection.

The resurrection is not some gnostic escape from this order of things and this economy, but rather an insight into how things should be now. Moses and the prophet still provide the map for what this order of things should look like. Faithfulness to the covenant is indicated by the status of the alien, the sojourner, the orphan and the widow. Lazarus has a name; the rich man does not.

Whose names do we not know? Who lives outside our gates?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *