Compassionate Rich Man
Sermon delivered by Bobbi Kraft at Grace Episcopal Church, Sheboygan, WI
19th Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 21 – Sept. 25, 2017
There’s a study carrel, a kind of desk, in the basement of the library that I’ve claimed as my own. It’s tucked away in the far back corner. My classmates have dubbed that carrel “The Perch” since they know that’s where I’ll be perching when I’m not in class or need to study. Many people know where to find me in my little corner of the library and will stop down to for a quick hello, an answer to a question, or when in need of someone to listen while they discern.
Tuesday morning, Jason, a new arrival to VTS found me at The Perch and asked where the commentaries were for the Gospel of Luke. Since they’re located in a couple of different places, I decided that, rather than attempt to tell him where they were, I’d just show him (despite the stack of reading I had in front of me). After showing him all the different books he had at his disposal, I returned to my perch to read. When he returned with the commentaries, he told me that he was preaching this weekend.
“Really? That’s great! What’s the text?” I asked. “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” “Ahh,” I said to him with an air of pride and knowledge, “we had to research that text for Dr. Grieb’s class last year.” “Oh really? What did you decide the important details were?” he asked.
I pulled my research up on my computer, read through it, and shared with him what I’d decided I would preach on if I ever had the chance to preach about it here at Grace. This morning, I’d like to share with you what I shared with him.
What struck me then and still does now is that the sin of the Rich Man was not that he was rich but that he lacked compassion for someone known to him.
We’re currently in the portion of Luke where the Pharisees are hanging around and listening to what Jesus has to say. Just before this, in verse 14, it says that the Pharisees were lovers of money and were “scoffing at Him”. Last Sunday, we had the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, before that Luke includes the stories of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and, of course, the Prodigal Son. Jesus was really on a role telling parables that made no sense to the Pharisees.
Can you imagine? They’ve heard story after story that makes no sense to them and then Jesus starts up with, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” It’s easy to imagine that at this point, after all the stories of seeming nonsense, some of the Pharisees may have been thinking, “Finally, a story we can understand!”
Jesus had their full attention.
And, yes, it was for them. And it was full of clues that they would have known were directed at them. But, The Rich Man and Lazarus is also a story for EACH of us, once we understand some of those very same clues.
I remember as a kid hearing this story thinking, “Ha! He got what he deserved!” But that isn’t Jesus point. This isn’t even a condemnation that the Rich Man was rich. It’s that he lacked compassion.
Compassion. Here was a man he saw at his gate each day for years. This man was covered in sores. Suffering. He hoped for scraps from the table and the street dogs licked his sores. (PAUSE) And the Rich Man knew him by name; Lazarus. He knew him by name!
In our world today, we are comfortable with the story of the Good Samaritan. Helping someone you don’t know is considered commendable. Yet, in Jesus’ time, it was counter-cultural. This story…with the Rich Man knowing Lazarus’ name…would’ve indicated something dishonorable. The Pharisees would’ve known the importance of taking care of those known to them. They would’ve brought shame on their families if they didn’t.
How many of you know the names Winnie & Aaron Horvat? Or Arts in Croatia? It is probably safe to say that not all of you know them personally, but you know their names and their mission in Croatia. Now, think back to when the news reports of the refugee crisis began. And think about what it was like when you heard that refugees were entering Croatia. Many of you, thought about Winnie & Aaron right away because you knew their names and knew that they were there. You saw the suffering and sought to do what you could to help. And box after box was packed in this parish hall and shipped to the other side of the world to help the suffering. To send our new and used clothing, our “riches” to those suffering.
Lazarus was at the gate, waiting for crumbs from the table! He was this close! How easy it would have been for the Rich Man to invite him in! How easy it would have been for him to get Lazarus some help!
The text says that the Rich Man was in Hades and saw Abraham with Lazarus. The Pharisees prided themselves on being “children of Abraham”, and yet in this story it’s Lazarus who was with Abraham, not the rich man. Abraham says that “they have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” Jesus uses the very things the Pharisees pride themselves on to let them know that this story is directed at them, (pause) and at us.
They would’ve understood what Abraham was saying. They would’ve understood that compassion is more than just about the money. After all, the only thing the rich man asks for is for Lazarus to “dip the tip of his finger in water” to cool his tongue. But Abraham, denies him this kindness, this bit of comfort because previously the Rich Man didn’t even show Lazarus a drop of compassion. Nothing.
I wanted to share this with you today because kindness matters. It may seem small. It may seem inconsequential. And it may seem like it won’t make any difference whatsoever. But I am here to tell you that kindness matters!
Like Father Karl, I do NOT believe in coincidences. Tuesday, I unexpectedly opened up a research paper I wrote a year ago. Tuesday morning, I didn’t know that, later in the day, I’d be glad that I had. Little did I know how much this parable is a testimony of my life and so many around us. In 2008, like Lazarus, I was in pain and suffering. The Rich Man who saw me each day behaved very differently though. Instead, when he saw my pain and suffering, he invited me here, to the Lady Chapel for healing prayer. He said that he could see that I was hurting and that he knew that people who’d been to the chapel had experienced healing. Now, he could easily have responded by saying, “I shouldn’t get involved. I can’t fix anything for her.” There wasn’t anything his wealth could do to relieve my suffering. But, he knew and believed Jesus could relieve it. I DID experience healing! That healing allowed me to find my way back to my heavenly Father and faith. I’m here today because he reached out to me in compassion.
And, Tuesday afternoon, I received word that he’d gone to our heavenly home. In the hours that followed, I was able to share with others how his simple act of compassion, of a kindness the world does not understand, how it marked me and changed my life forever. Suddenly, all the notes I’d read that morning came back to me! But now, I kept thinking about the part of the story dealing with the five brothers.
Whenever numbers are mentioned in the Bible, they signal that we should pay attention. To those listening that day, the number five would have implied so much more to the Pharisees. Five brothers. That would’ve made the Rich Man one of Six males in the family. IF he had brought Lazarus to his table and given him a robe, Lazarus would have been considered the 7th brother. Seven is the number of “wholeness.” Showing compassion to Lazarus could have brought wholeness to that family.
Compassion. Kindness. Loving our neighbor. This is what we are called to do. We are not asked to take on ALL of the problems of the world…simply to show compassion where we see it needed. My life was saved a the compassionate Rich Man asked me to join him for healing prayer. And, I went with him. Because, not only did he see me each day and know me by name, but I saw him and I saw the witness of his life and his faith in the hope of the resurrection!
Who do we see each day? Who do we see who could use a bit of compassion? Who are we being witnesses to by our living? We are each wealthy in our own individual way. Who around us knows that we have the hope of resurrection through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?
Today, back in Virginia, at least four of my classmates will share my story of being Lazarus at the gate. They will share the story of a compassionate Rich Man who was able to change a life by one simple act of invitation…of compassion to a person he saw each day and knew by name. We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. There are so many who could tell a similar story if we’d reach out with Christ’s hands in compassion. It could be the clerk at the store you see all the time but one-day notice seem quite like normal. As children of God, we are each rich men and women….but are we compassionate? That is Christ’s challenge to us. Let us each reach out to those around us with compassion.
Thanks be to God.