Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity 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.” “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”
‘The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them..” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”’
The architect Mies van der Rohe said of his architectural projects: ‘God is in the details’. His buildings are so cleanly designed, so stripped back of fuss that what is there stands out with great clarity and beauty.
The parables of Jesus too are generally pared back to something extremely simple, so that the impact of what remains is all the greater
The parable heard as the gospel reading on Sunday, the 26th in Ordinary Time, was unusually long, but three details are worth noting.
The parable which demonstrates that we ignore doing good at our peril, also makes the point that for the most part what needs attending to, is on our doorstep. In today’s global village our doorstep may extend further than it used to… but a gentle, loving attention to those closest is always a good place to start to live out or calling as Christians, our responsibility as human beings.
It also makes the point that a very little sometimes came make a great difference – in his agony the rich man – just a drop of water…. For the poor man, just the scraps for the table. We might do more but to start where we can is good.
And finally it shows that the bad habits of a life time are hard to break. The rich man, so used to having his own way, still considers Lazarus as his to command.
And yet, as Amos (almost) put it, the sprawler’s revelry is ended.
Detail from ‘The past is the key to the future’, carving in the chapel at the National Arboretum, Alrewas, Lichfield. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.