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16 Pentecost - Luke 16:19-31

I began one of the class sessions at this weekend's confirmation retreat with the question,

Where do we see God?

There are multiple right answers to this.

Martin Luther's answer is that we see God most clearly at the cross.

This is not where the world trains us to look.

If we notice the half naked criminal corpse at all, if we stop or dare to look, our

first thought is likely not, "Here is the creator of the universe, here is the power

that holds all things together, here is the one I want to worship and follow."

The cross startles us out of trusting our eyes or settling for surface conclusions, and so

does the explosive story Jesus tells his critics today.

A rich man dressed in purple is obviously rewarded by God and respected by others, to

the exceptionally rare degree that the empire permits him a royal wardrobe.

Lazarus is obviously cursed by God, too lazy even to avoid the tongues of unclean dogs,

who accomplishes a sum total of nothing throughout the entire story.

This poor slob is elevated to the bosom of God's friend Abraham, a very rich man, in a

story told by God's Messiah, a very poor man.

Beware of making assumptions.

God sees things, including us, much differently than we do.

Which is why Moses and the prophets continually point to needy neighbors and force us

to face them and respond with generous mercy.

It is the foundational lesson that the tragic figure in Jesus' parable, the man cursed with

the misfortune of wealth, never learned.

He clearly recognized Abraham as his father, but it never clicked that Abraham's child

Lazarus was therefore his brother.

By the time he was in hell, he saw Lazarus, knew his name, was even willing to let his

dirty, dog-infested finger touch his lips, but he still viewed Lazarus as a lackey,

raised by the angels, but only from waif to waterboy.

The nameless man tells father Abraham that he as has a father and five brothers; yet still

says nothing to his brother sitting there at father Abraham's side.

He pleads for Lazarus to be relocated by the authorities—this is probably not the first

time—this time to leave paradise to serve as his personal errand boy to those he

recognizes as brothers.

John Shea astutely paraphrases Abraham's response:

You lived a life of luxury, deafened yourself to Moses and the prophets, and

numbed yourself to the needs of the poor.

So now you are on the other side where the consequences of actions reach fulfillment.

You find yourself isolated and tormented.

Is this a surprise?

Our entire people began as poor and exploited.

Everything in our history has urged us to welcome the poor and exploited.

You have not done this.

Do you really think you can ignore and resist God's purposes and succeed?

Did you miss that teaching at synagogue?

Now you want a spectacular sign for your brothers.