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Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on 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.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

The following is written by Dr David H Brooks

One of the phrases that is used often in our household is “you never know.”

Typically, it is meant to draw out desired behavior, as in, “you might want to eat your vegetables, because you never know if there’s a yummy dessert in the fridge.”

More broadly, “you never know” is encouragement to not assume anything, to not look at a situation and believe that you have summed up what is and is not important. Anyone who works in customer service knows this fact well—given that Americans prefer to dress down, you never know if that individual approaching the hotel front desk or the boutique service counter is well-heeled or not. So, good customer service skills starts with “what can I offer” rather than “what do they bring me.”

The Scriptures echo a version of this truth, of course. Hebrews 13:2 admonishes us to “not neglect to show hospitality, for some in doing so have entertained angels unknowingly.”

You never know.

In this parable, Jesus offers his own take on “you never know.” And, since he is the Lord and knows that it is what is at work in the heart that matters, Jesus tells this parable as a way of highlighting how “you never know” challenges each of us, for such moments reveal what we truly love.

Of course, Luke reports that Jesus tells the parable because he was aware that his audience—some Pharisees—were “lovers of money.” Jesus addresses his word to what is in their hearts. “There was a rich man, who dressed and ate sumptuously...” Now, we might listen to that story and get agitated, because we are sniffing out what did this guy DO to deserve his fate? But the story doesn’t speak to any specific “wrong-doing” on the part of this rich man. He simply “disciplines” his life around what he loves, and because of the discipline he chooses, he is unable to see Lazarus.

I say that again—he is unable to see Lazarus, except in the terms that his discipline has taught him. His love of riches means that he never sees Lazarus as anyone at all—Lazarus is nothing to him, because his love leaves no space for any other alternative. There is no reason to pay attention to Lazarus, because Lazarus, poor that he is, does not increase what the rich man loves. The path of his life has a certain trajectory, and by the end, in agony, he still sees Lazarus as a means, as an instrument to his aims and goals. He never knew the poor man at his gate, never knew what was possible, never knew what he could offer—the help of God.

Now, it is important for us to remember that the parable is addressed to what love resides in the heart, not to money per se. It could be anything; indeed, in our current world, there are many things that clamor and demand our love, our loyalty; insist that we bend our lives to their discipline; threaten us if we do not open our hearts to them. The point is that whatever we love will shape us, and we will go willingly, to whatever end—you never know.

Except, we do know, don’t we? The one who loved the Father and walked the path of that love, paying the cost, despising the shame, claims us in the power of his love. Consider, the Son of God loves us, and so disciplines himself to offer himself for us, and to us. He does not look upon us for what we might give him, but rather begins with what he can give.

When you come to the altar, and hold out your hand, look closely at what you have received. It is a gift of love. It’s power is the power of God—to redeem, to renew, to bring repentance, to strengthen true love and faithful discipline. Our Lord’s call upon your life can and will take you on a path that will help you see, and do, so that everyone you meet becomes a Lazarus—help from God. Go ahead, take and eat. You never know.

Let us pray. We do know of your great love. May others know you by what we say and do. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen

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