RCL Year C Proper 21
Amos 6:1a and 4-7, Psalm 146, I Timothy 6:6-19, Saint Luke 16:19-31
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, that is the Gospel today, that is unique to Saint Luke, finds its source in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, particularly the portion of that Sermon that also is unique to Luke. Let me read to you the portion that the Parable illustrates: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”
Sometimes preachers preach to the choir, meaning those who know or believe already. But sometimes preachers preach to the rich. And today, I know that I am preaching to the rich rather than to the poor.
The easiest way to evade the significance of the Parable is to claim to be poor or to claim to live on a fixed income. All salaried people live on a fixed income. All hourly people live on a fixed income. All pensioners live on a fixed income. But not one of us is poor in the terms of the parable. Not one of us lives from the crumbs of others’ tables. Not one of us has sores treated only by the licking of dogs. So, in the terms of the Parable and the Sermon on the Plain, we are rich. The first step of fidelity to this Parable is to let go of our denial of being rich.
And, since we are among the rich, what are we to do? I find it specially interesting that the Parable’s end turns not on the treatment of the poor but on listening to “Moses and the prophets”and repentance. Abraham says to the Rich Man, in Hades, “They have Moses and the Prophets; they should listen to them.”And the Rich Man replies, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”So, listening to Moses and the prophets, and repenting are the first things we are to do.
Repenting includes giving. What is the connection, you ask. When we truly believe, we change our behavior to conform to what we truly believe in. Today, what we say we truly believe in falls under the headings of Moses and the prophets, the Sermon on the Plain, and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. When our behavior conforms to these things, we give. We give generously and sacrificially.
In early times, the clergy were maintained by receiving one-quarter of the offerings of the laity. The remaining three-quarters went to the upkeep of the fabric of the church, to the relief of the poor, and to the bishop. At a date which cannot be precisely determined this system was superseded by tithes, the payment of a tenth part of all the produce of the lands.To this day, the tithe is the gold standard of giving, and the heart of stewardship in the Christian Church.
So, fidelity to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus involves more than sympathizing with poor Lazarus. It involves answering God’s call to become mature. We reach maturity by following an established set of steps to maturity that is built into God’s economy, God’s way of doing things. It involves believing which begets repenting which begets giving which begets tithing.
It is obvious to all that neither believing, nor repenting, nor giving, nor tithing, can be delegated to someone else to do in our place. They are steps to maturity, good works prepared for us to walk inthat we pass through as we make our way to the maturity God wants each of us to attain. The Rich Man didn’t bother much with believing, repenting, giving, or tithing. He had to find out later what a mistake that was.
Saint Luke 6:24-25a.
Saint Luke 16:29.
Saint Luke 16:30.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingston, editors, (1983), page 1380 under “Tithes.”
BCP(1979), page 339.