My name is Dives – or at least that’s the name people have given me over the years --- because notice I am not named in the parable that Jesus tells today – more about that later.
They call me Dives because it is simply the Latin word for RICH – and yes, I was that – filthy rich – without a care in the world ---- as long as we are only talking money.
You may remember hearing a story about my brother, Ashar, in the Gospel a few weeks ago. He was the one who built bigger barns to store up all his wealth. . . he could have shared it, but did not – let’s just say some things run in families. . .
They call him Ashar because it is the Hebrew word for “to be rich and wealthy” or simply, “to be flat out prosperous.”
We were obviously cut from the same mold: all my brothers and I -- were wealthy, prosperous, and stuck on ourselves – because we would never think of sharing any of our wealth with those less fortunate --- let them fend for themselves. . . and that is the thinking that landed me in a very unpleasant place after my life on earth – but let’s get back to Jesus’ parable. . .
You may not realize this, but in all the 30 or so stories or parables Jesus tells in the Gospel – only once does he call someone by name –
and that is Lazarus. Usually Jesus says things like, “ a rich man had a steward,” or “what man among you having a hundred sheep,” or “what woman having ten coins and losing one” or “when you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet.” -- Parables you have heard in recent weeks – and not one name used among them.
But Jesus calls this poor man lying at my door by name – Lazarus – perhaps just to indicate that learning a person’s name – is the first way to begin to break down the barriers that separate people. . . Lazarus --- which in Hebrew means “God has helped” -- a name I don’t use until after both of us are dead and gone –
and only then because I want Lazarus to do something for me – to be my servant – to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue.
Now when both of us were alive – I had no use for him, and therefore walked by him day after day – not even noticing him – and so certainly would have no need to know his name.
If only I could have been a bit more like this man Jesus in my life – but I certainly had no use for the values he was proclaiming: “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to let the oppressed go free.” He obviously did not know the poor, the captives, and the oppressed were part of the problem in our society –
if not the whole problem of our society: out of sight, out of mind is my philosophy. . . or I should say WAS my philosophy – if only I could go back and relive my life. . . things would be a bit different. . .
And that’s why I want Abraham, our father in faith, yes, I was a Jew – just not a very good one --- I want Abraham to let Lazarus go back to warn my brothers to put the poor, the captive, and the oppressed into their sight and into their minds – and to reach out to them in compassion.
But Abraham simply says, “they have Moses and the prophets – let them listen to them.”
If only I had listened. . .
For Moses, who we Jews thought wrote the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible, said in the book of Deuteronomy, “treat the poor with open hands, rather than with tight fists.” My fist could not have been more tight, holding on even to the very first denarius I had ever earned – it was framed and hanging in my office!
Or in Leviticus, Moses said, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your fields --- leave it for the poor and the foreigner.” I think my brother with the bigger barns needed to pay attention to that one, and maybe he would not have needed his bigger barns!
Or, again, in Deuteronomy, “there should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, God will richly bless you.” God did indeed bless me – but I kept it all to myself, failing to be a good steward:
one who realized everything I had was a gift from God – and I was called to be a responsible care-taker and dispenser of God’s property. Oh, if only I had listened and lived my life differently!
The prophets are the ones who really cut loose on the care and concern for the poor. . .
Like the Prophet Amos you have been hearing from – who told you last week that God is not happy with those who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.
And who continues this week – woe to you complacent [which means those who are marked by self-satisfaction and who are unconcerned about anyone or anything except maybe where the next banquet is to be held!] Woe to you complacent – you shall be the 1st to go into exile!
I guess it is safe to say among my brothers – I am the first to go into exile: into this netherworld where I am in torment. . .
It was all right there, laid out in our sacred texts – to watch out not only for yourself, but for those who were less fortunate than you are. If only I had listened. If only I could have thought of someone besides myself. If only I could do it all over again and be a good steward of all that I was blessed with – I would not be begging for that drop of water to cool my tongue!
So, I am Dives – the rich man dressed in purple garments and fine linen ---- and I guess the point I really want to make – is for you to pay attention to how you live --- learn from my mistakes. Live your life with gentleness, with graciousness, and with generosity.
Have concern for the poor, the captives, the oppressed – and don’t forget about the widow, the orphan, and foreigner. . .
And be sure to take to heart the words this Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel and repeats often with the hope that it will sink in:
Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be.
All that you possess will never set you free.
Seek the things that last – come and learn from me:
Where your treasure is your heart shall be.
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