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.”
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.