29 September 2019, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21C (RCL) – Jeremiah 32:1-3a,6-15; Psalm91:1-6, 14-16;1 Timothy6:6-19; Luke16:19-31.
Jesus begins this parable by telling us there was a rich man who feasted sumptuously every day. The Greek word for ‘sumptuous’ is lampros. In its adverbial form, as here, that word means something like brightly or conspicuously. This man’s feasting was a matter of showing off. He wore purple and fine linen every day. He would have had to be a member of the household of Caesar to wear purple; and he wanted everyone to know it.This is also the only parable of Jesus in which one of the characters is named: Lazarus, which derives from Eleazar – God helps. The irony here is delicious – we would expect to know the name of the man who wore purple; certainly everyone in his city would have known his name. Instead, we learn the name of the street person who sleeps in his gate. How many times have we walked around the nameless street-person, and looked the other way?
I attended a Church in Boston that had been a monastic church for the Society of St. John the Evangelist. Some of the brothers would come each Sunday to Church there. One morning, I rode the subway from Cambridge with Fr. Clayton. As we emerged from the Park Street station, and prepared to make the short walk across the Common, thirty or forty homeless men emerged from the park and lined the sidewalk. Fr. Clayton stopped and spoke to each of them, and knew their names. It was probably the only time during the week, that these men would have heard their names spoken.
When Lazarus dies, he is carried by angels into heaven. The rich man also dies and sees Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. That posture would indicate that Lazarus was feasting with Abraham, reclining to his right, in the position of the guest of honor. Despite this reversal of fortune, the rich man continues to think of Lazarus as his errand boy: send him to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue; send him to my father’s house to warn my brothers. The great chasm fixed between them is this arrogance.
Feasting creates a sense of convivality, but of course can be used to exclude as well as include. That is why Jesus tells his host not to invite his rich friends or relatives, but the poor and the lame, in order to build up the joy of the kingdom. Like Rachel Held Evans said, “The Church is God saying, ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.'”
The reading from Timothy also hammers on the theme of wealth and its uses. God desires contentment for us. Wealth is to be used to help us lay hold of the life that really is life, and the pursuit of more wealth will only pierce us with many pains.
The passage from Jeremiah is a complete turn-about from what we’ve come to expect of him through the rest of the book. He has been warning of precisely the events that are unfolding. Jerusalem is besieged, and he is in prison. Despite this hopeless situation, however, he redeems his cousin’s land, keeping the land in the family, and giving his cousin needed money. He speaks of a day when again vineyards will be planted. As Jeremiah sees it, the history of the kings is a history of the pursuit of wealth and power, when what was important was land and vineyards. Peace is everyone eating his own grapes and sitting under his own fig tree – everyone with enough, and no one begging at the gates.