With all of the other news going on in the world, you might have missed that there has also been a college admissions scandal happening. And maybe this wouldn’t be such big news if it didn’t involve Hollywood celebrities, big dollar amounts, recognizable college names, and acts that to me are honestly so ridiculous that I just shake my head. For example, there was a family that bought a swimsuit with their high school logo on it, had him put it on, and staged him in their backyard pool just so they could Photoshop him into water polo pictures to justify him getting a water polo scholarship.Now, he didn’t even play water polo, but he got a scholarship! Then there were the celebrities that paid bribes between $250,000 and $500,000 to get their kids into USC. Or paying $15,000 to have someone cheat on the SAT for their child. Of course, all of this is coming to light now and people are starting to pay fines and serve jail time. They are getting what is coming to them! It has been very hard to find anyone that feels sorry for these folks.
I mean,if we’re honest, it’s hard to find a better feeling than schadenfreude. Schadenfreude is a nice German word that means taking pleasure in other people’s pain. In other words, celebrating when people finally get what is coming to them. These hoity toity rich people tried to circumvent the system and now they’re going to pay. The rich man in our story today flaunted his wealth in life and now in death he is begging for relief and it just isn’t happening. It’s hard not to have a schadenfreude moment. Now, it is not a sin to be rich. The man isn’t in Hades being tormented because he was rich. It was what he did with his riches and how he treated those with less that sealed his fate. We don’t know why he flaunted his wealth. Maybe it was a lack of confidence in who God created him to be. We never really find out.
Now Jesus is talking to the Pharisees… oh good, “them” again. No, we are the Pharisees. They had that opinion that if you did what needed to be done then you would get the goodies. The rich man was rich so obviously he was doing what God wanted. The rich man ate and Lazarus picked up the crumbs. Only the dogs ministered to him. (Side note, this just goes to show what amazing creatures dogs really are. Do you think a cat would have done that?) Did you notice something unique about this text? Whose name do we know? We know Lazarus’ name. He has an identity. The rich man doesn’t have a name. He’s anonymous. One might think that it would be the other way around. After all, in previous stories, and with other people that Christ deals with, the forgotten are hardly named. The woman at the well, the lepper, the Syrophoenician woman, and on and on. But this poor beggar named Lazarus. His is not to be confused with Jesus’ dear friend to be raised later, also named Lazarus.
Now, the rich man has a theology that says if “I do what God wants me to do my investments will do well, I’ll do good and everyone will know how good I am.” While we may not admit it, many of us dare think the same way. The Pharisees, in many ways, are American popular religion. If we just get our act together, God will love us, country, people, individuals, we just have to do what’s right, God will check it off so we can get what’s coming to us and if we don’t get what’s coming to us we can just complain to God that God’s not playing fair. We should know by now that these conversations rarely go well. This is often sold as the “American Dream.” If you work hard and trust the system, you should be able to live at (or maybe even a little above) your means and provide for your family. When the system fails us we look for people and places to blame and sometimes that means blaming God. After all, we think we’re following the rules, whatever they may be.
But Lazarus lives by trusting God. Eating what falls into his lap. Receiving the gift from those others would call the dogs, the unclean. That’s really a challenge for us. More and more we are ignoring those on the side of the road. We are interested in being right, successful, powerful, like no one else. We are becoming anonymous because we’re just like everyone else. But Jesus speaks of Lazarus. But right now he’s an identified poor man. Someone who trusts in Jesus has an identity. A name. A name that Jesus can speak. A name that you can I can speak. Don’t you realize that when you and I were baptized that we were given a name? We were introduced to God. I baptize “the name.” That name is important. That name contains the promise that we have been given. That name says that we have what we need to be the people of God. And that’s far more important than this other stuff. If you’re unsure of what God thinks of you, dip your hands in the waters. If you’re unsure of what God thinks of you, come to the table and be fed.
But then we get to the story of the bosom of Abraham and Hades. Don’t try and figure it out. We’re so interested in trying to figure out the “what is to come” that we miss the here and now. The challenge is trying to live as God’s people–now. Eternal life has already begun–now. Let’s live that way rather than wring hands. Will we (the church) exist in 30, 40, 70 years? Who cares? The challenge for us is to be the people of God in 30, 40, 70 years not the institution.
If we get it right, we get the goodies. We get it wrong. We’re not always sure the baptismal promises are for us. We don’t hear our names which is all we need. God is alive and active.
The church is God’s church for God’s people for God’s world. Somewhere along the way we got it wrong in thinking it belongs to us. This isn’t a comfortable text. It names our lack of faith because we really desire credit for what we put into the account. But it’s already ours. We are called to trust. And in trusting we shall live. Whether it is crumbs from the table or the feast at the table, we shall live in our identity as the people of God. Trust in who God created you to be. Trust in who God has called you to be. Trust that when God calls you, it is not because you are wealthy, but because you are already rich.