“Where There Can Still Be Movement” Luke 16: 19-31

Whenever I hear or read this parable, what jumps out at me is how many of the characters find themselves “stuck.”

Is this just the case, that we’re stuck wherever we happen to find ourselves?

The Rich man appears to be captive to his own luxurious lifestyle, feasting sumptuously day after day in fine linen.  He is always needing to find the next new delicacy, the next attribute of status, symbol and wealth.  He’s stuck!

Oh, we might say, “I could handle being stuck like that!”  But truth of the matter is the weight of expectation and the need to attain to ever ascending expectations is just as oppressive as anything else.

Lazarus is trapped in his own body and by the limitations of his station in life.  He is a beggar, filled with lots of longing but no way to be filled or fulfilled.  He is stuck!

Death finds both of them “stuck” in their respective places with their roles now somewhat reversed.

Suffering is the lot of the rich man after death, as he is in torment in Hades.

Comfort and security in the “bosom of Abraham” is what Lazarus finds, but even here he is held fast in that mythical place of consolation.

In a curious way they are both still stuck, each on their respective sides of that great “fixed chasm” that Abraham points out, that neither can cross, even if they want to.

The Rich man is also still stuck in his assumptions.  Stuck in the assumption that he can just order Lazarus around, and that he can garner a kind of privilege because of his former position or status.

“Send Lazarus…” he demands, as if he could still order people around to suit his own needs.

Lazarus is similarly stuck, unable to even offer relief or to be sent out or even to go on his own initiative out of compassion or a desire to help.   Even if he wanted to make his way to give comfort, or warning, or comment, he cannot.

Abraham doesn’t seem to be able to move much here either.   He can explain and inform, but in the end can only point out what can and cannot be done, and what each character enjoyed or had to endure in their life on earth.

It appears that everyone in the story is stuck with where they are in life, and in death.

But is this the point of the parable, that we’re all stuck with what we’ve done, who we’ve always been?

Is there no one who can still move, who can do something before the “chasm is fixed?”

As it turns out, there is.   Five brothers who are still alive.

Five brothers that we know nothing about except that the rich man is now concerned for them.

Five brothers who can still make choices about listening to Moses and the Prophets.

Five brothers who can still make choices about what they do in this life.

Five brothers who can attend to the  “chasm” before it is fixed!

Since the parable can do no good for Lazarus, or for the Rich Man, it must be for those of us for whom movement is still possible.  Those “five brothers”…and perhaps for us.

This is a little piece of apocalyptic literature, this story that Jesus tells.   It purposely puts things into stark contrasts and hyperbole so that those who read it, hear it, have an opportunity to consider their own actions and decide where and how to act.

As children of Abraham who are looking in on this parable, and who can still listen to Moses and the Prophets, and even to the one who has been raised from the dead, it gives us a chance to consider things, and most importantly to look at the “Chasms” that exist for us.

We still have time to amend life, to choose different pathways while we can, and to move to the other side of the chasm, because for us the chasm is not yet “fixed.”

Oh, but we sometimes act as though it is!

It doesn’t take too long of looking around in our polarized society to begin to think that we live in a world of what we think are “fixed chasms.”

There is the chasm that separates the rich from the poor.   Most disturbing of all in the parable, and in our lives is that we recognize it and we, like the rich man, can even know the names of those caught on the other side.

There is the chasm that separates political parties and political realities.

The chasm that separates loyalties, and allegiances.

The chasm that separates ideologies and modes of operation.   “We do things this way, we don’t do things that way.”

Families have chasms that separate outlaws from in-laws, and ex’s from currents, and chasms that loom threatening as members walk close to them, threatening to fall off of favor, or fall into disfavor.

Oh, the chasms we know.  Deep and wide and seemingly fixed, permanent.

“We’ll never get that one to agree with us…”

“We’d rather die than give them the time of day…”

“She’ll never come around to any other way of thinking…”

“That is just the way he is, he’ll never change.”

We have become experts at seeing and creating chasms because; well because we so often find them comforting in a way!

They are like the mythical walls that promise to keep us safe, or to keep away those whom we fear, or to keep out those whom we loathe, or those whom we look at in disgust, or those whom we have labeled as different from us.

“Just let them be that way if they want to be like that…”

Or we assign people to the other side.

“Those people are just lazy….”

“Black lives matter?   All lives matter!  What is wrong with those people?”

“That’s not a protest, that’s a riot!”

“Keep them in their ghetto if that’s the way they want to live….”

“If he doesn’t want to stand for the anthem, maybe he should find another country…”

Oh, we are quick to assign a chasm and a side sometimes.   We do it with our judgments.  We do it with our inability to listen.  We do it with our desire to hold on to our own comfort, our own privilege, or our own sense of what is “normative”.

“This is the way it should be, the way it’s always been in this country….”

“Yes, the chasm is good,” we tell ourselves.   “That way we never have to bother with those on the other side.”

The only problem with believing that is that it will make you stuck.  You will not be able to do what it is that Jesus calls you to do with his teaching and with his very life, which is to move!,

The is what Jesus does consistently in the Gospels.   He is on the move, reaching across divides, and Jesus wants nothing to do with putting chasms in place, or acknowledging their existence.  Not in this life anyway.

Jesus reaches out to those marginalized, those from whom we would like to separated, and bids us do the same.

“Go into the highways and the byways and invite in the poor, the lame, the widowed, the stranger in your midst to the banquet.”

“When you throw a banquet, do not invite those who you think will invite you back.  Invite instead the poor and the lame….”

“Remember the Orphan, extend hospitality to those in need.”

“Pray for your persecutor, love your enemy.”

See them!

This is where we so often bump up against our own desire, privilege, and sense of safety in following Jesus.

Jesus bids us bridge divides, continue to talk with those with whom you disagree.  (Certainly he did that throughout his life with the Pharisees!)

Jesus with his teaching and with his example time and again invites us to, build bridges, to cross divides, to find ways to honor others, to include the forgotten, the ignored, and the marginalized   Jesus encourages us to speak well of others, and to accept them as they are and walk with them, changing them and changing ourselves as we walk with them or learn from them, and all of this flies in the face of the comfort of chasms.

It is hard and messy work.

It invites conflict, calls into question our own deeply held convictions and beliefs, and forces us to stare down sometimes into the abyss of our own fears, our own discomfort with “the other,” and our own reluctance to engage those who are “different” from us.

We prefer you see, to let the chasm stand.   And, we will unless we get a glimpse of what the future may hold for us and perhaps for them, if we will not move!

We are meant to be terrified at the prospect of the apocalyptic vision, not so much because this is what God intends to have happen as much as this is what we will let happen because we refuse to move in this life while we can.

It’s all about the movement that is possible, because while we live we have God’s teachings.

It’s all about the movement that is possible because while we live and have breath we who already KNOW the names of those who cannot change their lot in life can reach out and help them.

It’s all about the movement that we can do, while we can, to follow so where Jesus has led the way that the comfort of Abraham’s Bosom need not be a future hope, but can be a present reality – for all.

A world without Chasms, and a future without them as well.

“Caught Red Handed” Luke 16:1-3

This parable is hard, and I’m afraid I’m going to make it a lot harder.

Jesus tells this parable to his own disciples, but it is spoken into the situation of the Pharisees grumbling about Jesus welcoming and eating with tax collectors and sinners.   As Jesus begins to do the actions of the Kingdom of God coming near, those actions collide with the expectations of the religious leaders of his day.

When the Pharisees begin to grumble about his actions Jesus launches into the “parables of the Lost” – The Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son and the Older Brother.  As Jesus tells those parables the assumption that we as listeners make is that they are designed to “soften up” the Pharisees to sway them over to Jesus’ point of view.

Surely, once they hear about the lost sheep, the lost coin, the Prodigal Son, they will begin to understand God’s intention melt into a situation of ascent.

“Oh yes, Jesus, now I understand how the Kingdom is supposed to work.

Yes, I am the one lost here.

Yes, I am the one who wants to be found.

Yes, I’m the younger son who has been demanding, or I am the Older Brother who needs to repent.

I get it Jesus, my bad for grumbling in the first place.”

And that might play out for us if Jesus hadn’t thrown the bit in the last parable about the older brother refusing the Father’s attention!

You see, the older brother never does come to the party, and he can’t join in.

But, that is not what happens in the parable.

The subject and outcome for the older brother in the parable is left hanging.  The Older Brother, (the Pharisees, if you will) are still on the outs with this vision of a God who seeks, finds, welcomes and forgives… all those marks of the Kingdom come near.

So, when Jesus turns to tell his own Disciples this parable of the Dishonest Steward, the tacit understanding is that he is referencing those Pharisees who will not get it, perhaps will never get it.

And so now the question becomes as he turns to his Disciples, “What will you do when you are caught red handed in opposition to me and to the Kingdom?”

What will you do, Disciples, when you are caught on the opposite side of what Jesus proclaims and calls you to be?

This parable is directed at the Disciples.  Is it a warning?

Parables are meant to jar us out of our complacency.   They are not meant to be “figured out” so much as they are meant to make us question, and to ask questions.

That’s why this is such a hard parable for us you see.

We want to enter into it trying to figure out what Jesus is trying to say to us.    We parse the characters trying to figure out who is God, who Jesus may be, who we would be, or are supposed to be.  What is commendable about this dishonest steward’s actions?   Are we supposed to be like him? Etc.

And, most importantly, we approach the parable looking for the ONE THING that we’re supposed to take away from it, the ONE THING that we are supposed to do, as if the parable was a means of moral teaching to give us an answer.

But let’s leave all that on the sidelines for now, and focus instead on just the situation that Jesus presents, and the conclusion that is reached.

The situation is that the dishonest steward has been caught red-handed.

The conclusion that is reached is that you cannot serve two masters, God and mammon.  (“Mammon” being a personification of money, wealth, prestige, power, etc.)

What plays out in the parable then is what one person who is caught red handed does in the situation of being caught.  What exactly this steward has done, we’re never told, … only that he got caught and so an accounting is demanded, and a judgment is made, “you can no longer be my manager.”

We watch him worm, and squirm, and think to himself, and come up with a plan that ends up serving him… well maybe?

He even gets a commendation in the parable from the rich man for his solution, but what kind of commendation is it really?   It’s like getting a “good job” from Donald Trump on an episode of “The Apprentice!”   Does it mean you’ve done something “great” in the end, or just that you’ve figured out how to work the system to your advantage for a while?

The parable refuses to give us any satisfying answer, and so when you don’t find a satisfying answer in a parable, the parable must be meant to be doing something else.

It’s making you ask your own hard question.

What will I do when I’m caught red handed?

What will you do when you realize that what you’ve said, what you’ve done, what you’ve always held to be true ends up being in opposition to the Kingdom that Jesus has come to proclaim?

“You will be caught red handed.”

The God who is omniscient, who sees everything, knows everything, is always watching and who never slumbers or sleeps WILL catch you red handed at some point opposing God’s command.

You will be caught “red handed” because you are only human and it is simply the case that you are a person with divided loyalties. You want to serve God, and see this Kingdom come in that Jesus proclaims, but bringing it in means that you will be at odds with the way this world works, and the pressures to watch out for your own interests above those of others.

So when you are caught in opposition to what Jesus comes proclaiming, oh Disciple, what will you do?

Will you worm and squirm?

Will you come up with a plan?

Will you talk yourself into, or out of something?

Will you try to strike deals?

Will you involve others?  Make them now complicit with you in what you’ve done?

Will you act out of mercy?

Will you act out of self-preservation and self-interest, trying to save your own skin?

Will you be shrewd, or play dumb?

What will you do when you are caught “red handed” by God opposing the Kingdom that Jesus comes to proclaim?

That’s what the parable invites you to do.   It makes you puzzle over the question, “What is this that I hear about you?”

This is a terribly uncomfortable position to find yourself in, being questioned by God, or by someone in authority, or to simply have your motivations and actions scrutinized.

You’ve been there.

You know what this feels like, in your workplace, in your home, in your family, in your community.

So the parable invites you to consider what you do when you find yourself under scrutiny.

And then, the parable does something else.  It drives to the conclusion.

“You cannot serve two masters…..”

And in the broader sense now, it invites you into a deeper consideration of who or what you are actually serving.

This is the point of contact that we have with those first Disciples as Jesus started his march to Jerusalem.

We quite often see where Jesus is going with something, and we are put in the position of wondering if we’re willing to go there, to go “that far.”

We will see this question played out, in each and every one of Jesus’ disciples.  They will all be caught “red handed,” you see, trying to serve two masters.

Judas with his hand on the purse, 30 pieces of silver in exchange for betrayal.

Peter with his “Lord forbid!” when Jesus starts talking of the Cross, and with his pride and denial at the fireside when someone says, “You were with him… you are a Galilean.”

James and John with their seeking of position, to sit at the right or the left hand of Jesus in his glory.

Philip with his skepticism, and exclusivism.

Nathaniel with his “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Thomas with his unbelief.

All of them with their heavy eyelids in the Garden of Gethsemane, when asked to pray and not able to watch and wait even one hour with Jesus.

Oh, Disciple, what will you do when you’re caught red handed in your inability to follow, or with your actions of opposition, or your inaction toward your neighbor, or with your disappointment of the Master, not being able to proclaim the Kingdom of God that Jesus has brought in?

What will you do, for it will happen to you!

Will you worm and squirm and make plans and all of that, when you discover that you cannot serve God and your own self-interest?

Will you despair of it all?

Will you make your excuses, and try to strike a deal to wiggle out?

Or, will you come to the same conclusion that each and every disciple had to, (except maybe Judas!) that if this Kingdom of God thing is real, it finally is all about God’s Grace and not about what we try to do on our own.

Will you finally be pushed all the way back again to those parables of the Lost in such a way that have to throw up your arms at last and say, “Find me, I can’t do this on my own!”

Will you finally be pushed back to let go of the Older Brother’s objections and collapse into the Father’s arm because there is no other option left.

This is either about Grace, or we’re lost forever.

This is hard parable.  It drives and drives and drives at what we do not want to face, what we want to find another way around or out of.

We want to keep serving two masters.   We like our stuff too much, our cleverness, our abilities, our wealth, our ability to manipulate things, our making of our own choices, our keeping of faith as an “optional” thing that we can take up when it is convenient or needed.

But the parable is just as insistent that you can’t do that.

You will love one, and hate the other, and find yourself pulled at constantly until you can’t figure out what it is that you are supposed to do, so long as you have divided loyalties.

This is a hard parable because it makes you ask of yourself, “who am I serving?”

And, what is even harder about the parable is that it tells us that it is not a “one and done” kind of thing.

The rest of the New Testament, and our very lives are about how we live into this call of who we follow, and who we will serve.    We cannot do it, except by Grace.