If we look beneath the surface of the parable about the rich man and Lazarus, we will see that Jesus has more to say to us than how to use our wealth. Jesus also speaks to us here about perception and recognition in two ways. One is what we perceive and recognize with our physical senses. The other involves perceiving with our imagination, creativity, inspiration, and empathy.
Just like the rich man who passed by Lazarus every day and never really saw him, we can miss perceiving with empathy. We often ignore the reality of people in desperate need. Sometimes their needs are obvious—food, shelter, clothing—and sometimes they are deeper and less obvious—the need for acceptance, meaning, understanding, love.
We may ignore people with needs, avoid looking into their eyes and listening to their stories, in hopes of escaping the pain we recognize there. We desperately need the kind of perception that opens us to understanding and helps us to recognize that we are not so different from our siblings—these children of God.
Jesus reminds us that our eternal life is connected to how we serve and treat our neighbors who wait outside our gates now. Whether their inexplicable hope is realized depends on how we respond to them. There is a relationship between this life and the next, Jesus says. The choices we make, meeting needs or turning away, will have consequences.
Our own problems may seem more than enough for us to deal with right now. But Lazarus sits there at the gate, in front of us every day. We can recognize our neighbors and respond as imaginatively and graciously as God has responded to us.
God of Abraham, when we are tempted to turn away from the deep needs of our neighbors, give us courage to do what we can because we know that they—and we—are your beloved children. Amen.
While Jeremiah is in prison, God tells him to buy a field. This transaction shows that in the future life will return to normal. It is an “enactment prophecy,” where a prophecy is given through actions instead of just words. The psalmist rejoices in the protection that God provides to the faithful. God is a fortress, a covering, and a shield. Paul admonishes his readers not to fall into materialism. The love of money, not money itself, is the root of all kinds of evil, and those obsessed with it build their hopes on shifting sands. Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who has fallen into that very trap. Only after death, when it is too late, does he realize his mistake.
Read Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15. How do you live as if God’s promises were already true?
Read Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16. How do you turn toward God with hope in times of darkness?
Read 1 Timothy 6:6-19. Whether you have few or many possessions, how do they get in the way of your following Jesus?
Read Luke 16:19-31. God knows each of us by name. Do you know the names of the persons in your community who have obvious or internal unmet needs?
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