The Gospel reading for Sunday, Sept. 25, takes us to the bosom of Abraham. Well, technically Luke’s telling has angels carrying Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham after a life of isolation, neglect and suffering. The rich man who overlooked Lazarus in their living days now looks longingly from a place of torment onto a scene of intimacy and comfort as Lazarus is cared for at last. The rich man wants some of that comfort, too, and calls out to Abraham for help, but it is too late for the rich man. The chasm between them is fixed. Immediately, the unnamed man thinks of his family, still living, and wants to make sure word gets to them before they’re drawn to his bosom instead of Abraham’s.
It’s a parable told before a listening audience long ago, and we know we are to read ourselves into it somehow. But rather than asking the obvious questions about our love of money and the evil such love produces, perhaps the better question the parable asks is Mary Oliver’s: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Professor Barbara Rossing suggests we read this tale as apocalypse. By adjusting our reading lens, she writes, “Luke is situating the audience not so much in the role of either Lazarus or the rich man, but in the role of the five siblings who are still alive. (The Greek word adelphoi can also be translated ‘siblings’— it includes sisters as well as brothers.) The five siblings who are still alive have time to open their eyes. They have time to see the poor people at their gates, before the chasm becomes permanent.”
I read and reread Rossing’s words against the apocalyptic parable from the comfort of my office, just one block from New Orleans’ Audubon Park, with the sound of old green streetcars rolling by. Believe me, we eat sumptuously here every day. The ease of this city is well documented. As I get very honest with myself, I wonder about the other good white folks like me feeling the discomfort of reading ourselves into the adelphoi of this tale. There is much I am overlooking, passing by every day, willing myself to un-see because my comfort is great and the chasm is wide.
It seems every time I retreat back into the coziness of a nice life flow, the Gospel starts reminding me that I’m living a lush life behind the gate. Luke pokes me in the ribs and lambasts my luxury of overlooking and passing by, picking and choosing when I get involved and when I care. Or the dear Greg Jarrell reminds me of “Jesus’ side of the tracks,” and I realize again how wide the chasm has become between my precious comfort and a world on fire.
And then I must confess that beyond a simple retweet or two, I spent more time this week talking about the napkins and doilies we will order for the church kitchen than I did the lives of Terence Crutcher or Keith Lamont Scott. Maybe I can point to Aleppo on a map, but I haven’t made the first step toward welcoming a refugee to my city or my church or my home. I confess this before you here because maybe it’s not too late for me. Maybe I can hear the words of Moses and the prophets and the voices calling to me from the life beyond. Maybe I can use this wild and precious life for something other than my own ease. Maybe the chasm isn’t fixed just yet.