Luke 16: 19-31 CEB
I took a class once titled: Images of God. I took it because I missed the class the prior semester titled: Images of Christ. In the prior class they looked at how nations all over the world have depicted Christ throughout time. It’s an intimidating task, but I imagined it would be even more overwhelming to delve into the world of images of God. Jesus Christ had a form. People saw this man face to face. But then you decide we are going to look beyond the human nature of God and look at the divine as a whole. I have to admit, before I took the class, part of me was imagining the famous scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I imagined my professor was going to open some secret lid to reveal the face of God. As long as I kept my eyes shut throughout the class I would be ok.
Well, she didn’t have the ark. I survived the class, but barely. See, something happened throughout the semester. The class divided itself. It started as a class to understand the enormous nature of God and how God has a place in everyone’s life. It turned into a reconciliation meeting between the feminists in one corner and white males in the other. The LGBT in the front and the straight in the back. The Caucasian on one side, and the African Americans on the other side. And, if you were bold enough to try to mix things up: say, come to class early and sit on someone’s side or corner? Well, that just meant the division was flipped. It looked the same as the prior class, only mirrored. A great chasm had been fixed between us and them so no one whether they wanted to or not could come over.
So how did that chasm get fixed in place? Well, the feminists wanted to talk about God being more than just an old white male. The African Americans agreed but felt they needed to talk more about God being for the oppressed. The extremists didn’t want to talk about God in anything relatable and wanted to make God something cosmic and distant. The white males wanted to be heard as a voice and not just as a group who was quashing everyone else’s relation to God. And it just kept going down that path. Until, it was impossible to do anything but agree to disagree. Sometimes it is appropriate to agree to disagree but when you are talking about the Children of God not being able to agree on how they are loved by God. It hurts. There we were, all of us, in the same room, but somehow we were all in different places.
So we come to our parable. I have to admit, I have heard this scripture preached more times than I can remember. If you figure the lectionary recycles itself every three years I have been in church my whole life. I could have heard this scripture preached around 8 times, 9 max. Every time it is the same message: God loves the poor and less fortunate so we need to show kindness to the least of these. That message is there. Remember it and keep it on your heart. I am going to somewhere else today.
There are no ways I can, easily or not, fully explain God. I did not yearn to be in my professor's shoes in that Images of God class. God is bigger than any of us can comprehend. But, I do believe God comes to each of us in a way we can relate to. I don’t want to spend the next few minutes labeling what God is or isn’t. If you want definitions read, Your God is too Small by JB Phillips. It is a great book and a somewhat easy read. I just want to focus some fuzzy aspects of our canvas and clarify.
In our parable I want to bring a single word out in the forefront. Of all the words Jesus used to tell this story why did he use the word Hades? Hades isn’t Jewish. He was talking to a Jewish audience so the word should have been Sheol. Sheol is the Jewish word for afterlife and usually not a pleasant afterlife. It's described as a place where one is completely disconnected from God. You died and went somewhere where God was not. In contrast, the parable, and the word Hades, was directed at the Pharisees. They had been, to put it nicely, cutting up in the back corner. Sheol wouldn’t worry or scare them. Perhaps they thought they were righteous enough to warrant God carrying them away like Elijah in a flaming chariot thus avoid Sheol all together. Perhaps.
Hades is Roman. If we know our mythology we know a god resides in Hades, so the divine lives there. Also, everyone, good or bad goes there eventually. There is no escaping it. If you notice the parable both characters go to Hades. Listen:
The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.
It wasn't that he was able to see heaven from his torment. He saw Lazarus from the same realm, the afterlife.
They both died. They both went to Hades. Even in death we are still in relationship with those we refuse to see. Even in death we are still in relationship with God.
Hades was really Jesus explaining what the rich man was doing in life. The rich man was a chasm builder. Lazarus, probably more out of necessity than want, tried to create relationship with the rich man. He lay at his gate. He longed for the rich man’s scraps. Both of these men were broken. Lazarus was broken physically. The rich man was broken spiritually. Only one of these men were a chasm builder.
We create chasms all the time for many different reasons. One of the most difficult realizations in the world is coming to the understanding that God still wants a relationship with the person you are polar opposites with. With the person who has hurt you, or the person who has hurt someone you love. If we all have the possibility to be a reflection of God it will eventually hurt ourselves to cut any person out relationship. That doesn’t mean live with the pain the person is inflicting on you. By no means. (The best choice my mother ever made was leaving my step dad, who was an abusive drunk.) What it does mean is coming to terms of how they too are creations of God. The rich man was separated, not by God but by his own poor decisions. Decisions he still didn't understand even when he died. He doesn’t ask for repentance for creating a divide between him and Lazarus. Instead he tries to send Lazarus on errands for the sake of his family.
In the same way, in relation to the Images of God class, all of us failed to destroy divisions in our class because none of us were bold enough to listen and honestly engage the other side. Some of us listened and some of us engaged but none of us did both.
By myself I can do nothing about those divides created in that class... Unless, I turn to God. God gave us communion. It is a meal that has been the subject of quite a few divides in the church. If you nit-pick the table you are bound to disagree about something. For today lets look at this table like a family meal: we sometimes bicker, we sometimes leave the table upset, but at the end of the day we are still invited back. This is our family meal. This is the ultimate chasm destroyer. But, we have to be willing to come to the table first.
My class began their semester with the book, Old Turtle. We took turns reading from the pages. I will end this meditation with the same book. I loved the message so much I made the video. Enjoy.
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