Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”
I am searching for wisdom. I bet you are as well. Not a wisdom about how to make more cash or even the wisdom a parent longs for in order to survive a child’s autism. The wisdom I refer to is a knowing, an integrity, a wisdom that comes from the depths of our being. This wisdom search is an itch that is hard to scratch. This search makes us sweaty in the middle of the night and throws cold water on us in the hardships of our day.
Many of us identify with the rich man in purple who is blind to the beggar in the doorway of his own home. Some of us believe that Lazarus tells our stories of loss, despair and uncertainty about today and we identify with his plight. The truth is that our lives are both characters in Luke’s gospel, a combination of wealth and poverty. We are rich and blind. We are poor and hungry. This combination once we admit it, is the real road to faith and wisdom. We know the identity of the poor man, his name is Lazarus. The rich man in this story is nameless. Who is rich and who is poor?
We live in a divided world. Of haves. And have nots. We sorta like it that way. We want to know the names of the good guys and the identities the bad guys. We want to be on the winning team. The Church today even plays into that division more than ever. We want clarity. Some bishops are good and some not. One Pope is more Catholic than the other. Some preachers are orthodox and others are inept. We want to know the rules we really need to follow and yet we ignore the sure message of Christ in the scriptures. Some parishioners are worth our attention while the homeless family living in a car is shunned by us. In fact we even blame people for being poor in the first place. This thinking leads us to more division within our own lives and in our communities.
This gospel challenges us to go deeper into our search for integrity of faith. We can admit our own richness of thought and gifts. We also, in prayer, can express our own poverty. Our lives are the amazing combination of poverty and wealth.
Cultivating change is never easy. We are a delightful combination of both/and. Our goal in life is to live in community that acknowledges such tension, where the opposites come together in integrity and faith. We are all poor in spirit and rich in the gifts of love, faith and gratitude. We need both sides in order to survive this complex thing we call life.
The wise relationship we seek is acknowledging the humble poverty of not knowing all the answers and yet the rich and vast exploration of our gifts in the world. Wisdom cannot be shrunk down into quick answers and sound bites. We need to breathe into the mystery of our lives and settle into the great awareness that we are loved by God and that our time on earth is short and beautiful.
Today, these two familiar characters in the gospel deserve our complete attention. Why? Because they both represent us, the people of God who ache for wisdom and new life in Christ Jesus. Ponder the image of the rich man that I sketched yesterday. Or is he the poor man, Lazarus? Perhaps he is both.