Jesus tells what is a quite playful story about the ultimate destination of rich and poor. The privileged and the pathetic all will come to an end and then what becomes of them? The childrens story details, like the conversation between heaven and hell show its allegorical nature, but none the less the teaching is pointed and profound.
Jesus teaching here is like many of his stories where the expected order and outcome are radically reversed.
But its much more than an awkward story about money, its much deeper than a moralistic tall tale and much more significant than a promise of pie in the sky post-mortem.
But before we come to unpacking the parable I want to look at the obscure text from Jeremiah as an introduction.
When I set this reading, I must confess I wondered if anyone would listen to it all.
Should you manage the admirable feat of getting past the marvelous and multi-sylabic names; the likes of Nebuchadrezzar, Zedekiah and Hanemal it seems to be a story about the purchase of a paddock.
Yes, Jeremiah, the prophet, buys a piece of real estate, a field in Ananoth, and he puts the deeds in a jar. Thats not very remarkable, but put it in its context and it is something very different.
For a parallel, imagine the story set in Iraq recently. George and his planes and tanks are massing at the border and the holy man whose job it is to tell Saddam that his country is doomed, all is lost, the same holy is man is told by God to snap up a quick deal on a piece of local real estate and hold on tight to the deeds.
The prophet of doom is told also, you see to invest in the future of this place because one day it will be restored.
This is very much a grounded act of faith. "After the doom, Jeremiah, after the destruction there is hope once more" this God is saying. All is not lost. Have faith, invest in the future.
In the gospel, Lazarus seems to live a life of being lost, and he dies, then rich man the not lost man, by all estimations he dies too and turns out to be more lost than Lazarus. He is worried about how lost his brothers are, he wants them to avoid this suffering, but how can they be changed?
I believe this story is a clear statement of the gospel, but not just a gospel of Gods gracious giving to us, in the way we see it expressed in the act of baptism. In baptism we are all accepted without qualification or prerequisite. This statement of the gospel is for those who have grown up and have their part to play investing in faith, in showing Gods grace to others.
The stark and disturbing challenge comes to those who have but do not share, and it raises the profound question; what will make people believe, what will convince?
Perth doctor, Ken Collins is the antithesis of the rich man in Jesus story. He has given of himself to the poor in India, the Philippines and Indonesia as well as working for refugees in Hong Kong and New Guinea. He has seen the worst of the worlds poverty and often treated 150 patients per day.
As with many who try to alleviate the suffering of the poor in one place or another, Ken Collins was often asked the question, "does what you do really make any difference. For as many as you help, another 1000 go unhelped?
Kens answer went like this.
There was a guy walking down the beach alone. Thousands of starfish are shriveling in the hot sun, washed up by a high tide. He comes across another man picking up the starfish one at a time and throwing them back into the sea.
Hey, he yells, what good do you think youre doing when there are thousands of them dying?
The man picks up a fish and replies, For this little bloke here mate, it make all the difference in the world, and he tosses it into the water.
For Lazarus, the man suffering, a little kindness would have meant the world.
For the rich man, a little generosity might have meant crossing the great gulf between rich and poor, something Lazarus could not do.
Today the gulf between rich and poor is as big or bigger than ever. The wealthiest 1% control over 50% of the worlds resources. Suffering has not been eradicated for all our great advances.
The challenging point of Jesus parable, confronts us with the question of "what do we share with people who have little or nothing, what fields of faith and hope have we invested in?"
God gives to us all, young and old alike.
But God also challenges us to learn from that example.
There are many poor in the physical sense, those lacking food, shelter and our worlds goods. There are also many in poverty of hope and direction, poor in spirit and status, poor in faith and understanding. On those of us who have any of these, there is a great responsibility on each of us to share.
When we baptize children, we individuals and as a church make promises to share what we have with these children, we promise to share with them an example of Christian love and trust, giving an opportunity for growth and development in faith nurturing one another in faith and upholding one another in prayer.
Jesus reminds us not to leave such things until its too late, not because we ought to or because there is some reward in it for us, the Bible itself says that to give everything away for the good of the poor is of no gain unless it is done with love. Jesus himself says here that returning from the dead would not convince people to believe, so neither will giving, in and of itself.
Its more that one can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving. We cannot love without giving.
Giving in love is at the core of Gods story, these are what the story of Jesus revolves around, as God so loved the world he gave.
As Gods children, made part of Gods family in baptism we are to take on the family resemblance. The resemblance of a loving, giving nature.
So much of our world is not a happy place, there are many today who could identify with Jeremiah grieving for Israel and having to fortell its doom. But even for Jeremiah there was one obscure sign of hope, one investment in faith beyond the suffering. This field of Ananoth and the question of the rich man in Jesus parable ask, no plead with us to invest wisely, invest in hope, in faith and to do it with love and generosity.
Amen may this be so, by Gods grace.