The The Great Chasm

Sunday, March 14, 2021
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier

Luke 16:19-31

Anybody feel the tiniest bit overwhelmed by this past year?  A global pandemic, social distancing, racial unrest, closed schools, job losses, political division, and an assault on our nation’s capital… And is one full year since we gathered to worship in our sanctuary.

Truth be told, there are times when life can feel so overwhelming that we do not want to see or hear one more news report about the suffering and injustice in the world. It is too hard. It hurts too much.  And it is healthy to turn off the news. Take a break, go for a walk. Drink in the sunshine and laugh with friends…even if it is over zoom.

In today’s parable, a rich man chooses not to see the suffering, poverty and hunger right at his gate. Maybe he is overwhelmed. But more likely he buys into the common understanding in Jesus’ day – that insists that Lazarus’ poverty is a sign of God’s disfavor — resulting from his wickedness and sin. Just as the rich man’s blessings are surely a sign of his righteousness and God’s favor.

Whatever the reason, the rich man is blind and indifferent to Lazarus’s suffering.

This rich man is very wealthy, dressed in fine linen and purple – the color of royalty.  Purple dye was so expensive that his clothing was literally worth its weight in gold. He lived in luxury, feasting each day on sumptuous fare.

Meantime, Lazarus languished, covered in ulcerated sores that were licked by stray dogs. Day after day, he longed to eat the scraps falling from the rich man’s table.  In that culture, people ate with their fingers, using bread to dip into their food. They would wipe their hands upon bread crusts like napkins and then throw to them dogs. But Lazarus never received a single crumb.

These two men were yards away from one another, but it may as well have been miles– so great was the chasm between them.

Eventually, both men die. Angels usher Lazarus to the side of Father Abraham, while the rich man is in torment in Hades.

It is important at this point to remember that Jesus told parables to convey spiritual truth. These images are part of a story used to make a point. Thy are not a literal description of the afterlife.  Hades was understood in Jewish thought as a place where the dead resided before the final judgement. Only in this parable is it described as a place of flaming torment.

What is important to note this the complete reversal of the two men’s earthly situations. What a shock to those who presumed their wealth was a sign of God’s favor to see the rich man in torment!  Finally, finally – he sees Lazarus, who is now relaxing in comfort by Abraham’s side.

But even now, the rich man fails to view Lazarus as anything other than a water boy or messenger. He asks Father Abraham to send Lazarus with water for his burning tongue or failing that – to warn his five wealthy brothers on earth.

But no. That chasm between them is so vast, it can no longer be crossed. And as for his brothers, they have Moses and the prophets.  If they do not listen to them, neither will they be convinced even if someone comes back from the dead.’”

The end.  OUCH.

Really, is this anybody’s favorite parable? Not mine.


It is this very parable that inspired a brilliant professor with degrees in medicine, theology and philosophy and one of the best concert organists in Europe, to move to central Africa and set up a hospital to care the medical needs of the people there. Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

Still. Is there really any good news in this parable?

Ask someone who has spent the night volunteering at a homeless shelter or lingered to listen deeply at the soup kitchen. Talk to someone who sponsored a refugee of war or maybe even traveled around the world to see – to listen, learn, and enter into another’s suffering.

If you ask them — or maybe you yourself have dared step out of your comfort zone and enter another person’s world, their reality, their suffering – well, then you know what happens.  The blinders fall off your eyes – And you begin to see…. really see. And when that happens there is just no going back. The great chasm of ignorance and indifference has been crossed over.  The invisible “other” – is now your own brother, your sister… a beloved and cherished child of the King.

As Americans we are people of wealth and privilege.  How easy it is to insulate ourselves – especially now – to the suffering outside our door.  It is scary to venture over the divide and realize how we may have contributed to their suffering. But here is the good news, not only do we have the law and the prophets – we have the greatest of all chasm jumpers and bridge builders – Jesus, who came back from the dead for us. There is no excuse. No going back. Let us reach across the chasm, asking God for the nerve and the eyes of Jesus to see.

Let us pray.

Lord God. Open our eyes to see what Jesus sees. Break our hearts with the things that break your heart. And then use us… our gifts, our wealth, our hands and feet to bring food to the hungry, relief to the poor and your good news to all.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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