Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Luke 16:19-31
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 21–Sunday Between September 25 and October 1 Inclusive)
analysis by Mike Hoy

19″There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– 28for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

DIAGNOSIS: Classified as No Class

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Rich Man…Poor Man
The contrast of the rich man (traditionally given the name “Dives”) and the poor man (Lazarus) is all-too-familiar to us today in our contrast of classes today. The rich are dressed in the finest linens and “feast sumptuously,” while the poor lay at the doorsteps. In some cases, the doorsteps may lay outside our borders, or outside our neighborhoods; but the divisions are sharply defined, and just as sharply maintained.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Not Listening to Moses and the Prophets
Not listening to others is a sign of a closed heart. The rich man’s problem is not simply that he failed to listen to Moses and the Prophets. That would probably not even be the failing of his five brothers. It is likely, however, that he and his brothers observed the path of least commitment to the tradition–so much so that they could not really claim allegiance to it. Instead of hearing the cries of the poor, who are really echoing God’s own call for justice, the rich shut out the “noise” and listen only to their own sense of self-sufficiency, or seek the easy path of self-justification. Likewise, the poor, in their own struggle to be heard, may insist on their own rights–and thereby place too much value in having that plea heard as their final justification.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: The Great Chasm
Ultimately, the judgment of God is a result of witnessing our “non-listening” being. God takes that aspect of our human lives seriously; but it is not for our benefit. Is it any wonder, therefore, that in the last analysis, the great chasm is fixed which “no one can cross”?

PROGNOSIS: Reclassified as New Class

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Someone Rising from the Dead
Our Christian creeds confess that Jesus the Christ “descended into hell.” That confession is not simply about some other-worldly locus, but (as Luther correctly noted) that Christ descended into the hell of our lives today. There, where the great divide between God and ourselves is ever present, Jesus becomes himself humbled by descending into the depths of our chasm–but not to bring us the judgment we deserve. He descends into our hell to bring us the enduring hope through his exaltation and resurrection from the dead!

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Convinced
That hope which Jesus brings in his rising from the dead lifts us out of our chasm and into a new life by which we become “convinced.” Convinced of what? Convinced of what Moses and the Prophets were pointing us to–that we are not ultimately self-sufficient, but that we are–all of us, rich and poor alike–dependent on God’s grace, which is alone sufficient to save, and does in fact save us from the “justice” we deserved under the law. Our conviction in that hope overcomes the barriers in our hearts, and keeps us open to God’s renewing, daily promise.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Humbled . . . and Exalted
That sense of dependence that we have on God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ has a humbling effect–and produces a humbling lifestyle. But, like our Lord, it is in being humbled that we are ultimately exalted as children in the faithful line of Abraham. The humility of dependency is, in fact, the way to overcome the barriers of class, and to love one another.


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