Emmitsburg Council of Churches

 

The Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 16:19-31

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.1

16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 16:24 He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 16:25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 16:27 He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house©© 16:28 for I have five brothers©©that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 16:29 Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 16:30 He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 16:31 He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"


Whatís Normal?
A Tale of Two Men . . .

AS Jesus tells us the story, we are clued into the deeper need of this poor man by the name that Jesus gives him: "LAZARUS" whose name means, "GOD HELPS", with the deeper meaning for all who listen to Jesus being: "Lazarus needs Godís help because nobody else will help poor old Lazarus", so, we also need Godís help, instruction and positive influence over our lives.

The Rich Man2, reclined at a table and Ďfeasted sumptuously." There was luxury and splendor for him to enjoy, life was easy, days were care free, living was good. The other man, Lazarus, had been thrown on the ground and was lying in front of the rich manís gate where he was unable to remove himself. Perhaps he was taken there by friends who thought he might receive something from the rich manís table . . . any means of sympathy would have helped! Lazarus was starving and in agony . . . his body was not surrounded by the comforts of abundant food, feasting, nor the laughter of friends. For him there was only festering sores, the pangs of hunger, lonelieness and despair. Lazarus had no friends to laugh or cry with . . . only the dogs who added to his torment. As an audience that listens carefully to this parable from Jesus, we may catch ourselves jumping to a certain conclusion: A day of reckoning must be coming, and when the poor man dies -- thatís when God will redeem him.

At least that is what we are led to believe Jesus is teaching us. But, in actuality, this is only an introduction -- A day of reckoning is not limited to an Eternal Outcome, but Godís justice and Godís mercy are present realities in our lives and in the world today!!

How is this so?? It is possible to be both reconciled and judged, depending on our faith in God and where we place our hope and trust. It is possible to be recipients of Godís grace and at the same time, have a blind eye toward the ways in which we place ourselves above the priorities of others. Let us return to the story to see this.

It is fairly obvious that Rich Man has considered his own well-being ahead of Lazarus. But what is slightly less noticeable, is that, in spite of his position as suffering in a fieri hell, the rich man has not changed. He has not corrected his outlook on Lazarus nor thought differently about those who are like Lazarus. The rich man says, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue." I donít know about you, but I get the feeling here that the rich man seeks for Lazarusí help Ė as though Lazarus was yet a "slave" to the rich manís needs. Even as the dialogue continues between heaven and hell, the rich man treats Lazarus more like an object than a human being. Rich Man still has not learned his lesson even though he is the one now suffering.

Notice how, a little further down in the dialogue, the rich man still does not acknowledge a rise in status for Lazarus. But instead, the rich man makes an additional request of Abraham, "I beg you, send him to my fatherís house for I have five brothers Ė that he may warn them . . . " Again, Lazarus is treated as a messenger or servant, as though he ought to obey and do the rich manís bidding.

Many times in life people operate out of "modes of normalcy." What do I mean by "modes of normalcy?" By this I mean that in their family or in their culture or because of the conditions in which they have learned to live, an individual will develop behavioral patterns. When thoughts and ideas are developed, practiced and then supported in a given environment, be it a family, a village or a nation -- then a "mode of normalcy" becomes established, all foreign modes, or outlooks on life, will be dismissed as unnatural or unacceptable. A mode of normalcy can be further enforced by customs, by prejudices and by ridicule of anyone who questions the ways and means of the "mode."

In the case of the rich man, his environment was a culture in which the members of his household would be served by others, most likely, slaves or servants. In the time of Jesus, owning a slave would have been considered a "normal mode" of being. It was generally accepted that you might own a slave. Furthermore, the religious culture of the time taught that, "to be rich was to be blessed of God," and conversely, "to be poor or in ill health meant that you were accursed, a sinner and/or unclean." Therefore, someone who was old or sick or "despised" such as was the case for people who were poor, sick and dying (like Lazarus!), would have meant that persons in this category were more like "non-persons", untouchables, not to be associated with, nor seen, nor heard, nor paid attention to. So Lazarus was so beneath the Rich Manís acceptable norm, that he was essentially a non-person . . . he was more of a "thing" to be used, ignored and then to be discarded.

Such modes of normalcy are also apparent in our own day and age. Something that is a normal habit, it need not be a bad habit, but behaviors and attitudes that most often capture our attention are the ones that tend to be negative. Abusive behaviors are unfortunate truths of our lives and of those whom we know. Unfortunately for the abuser, I mean the one who enacts the abuse, he or she might not even realize that his or her actions, whether verbal (mental), or physical (violent), are unacceptable, because he or she may have been raised in a family, culture or nation where this kind of behavior is the NORM. (??Is this making sense now??)

Conversely, the one who has been abused all of his or her life, may not recognize that he or she is a victim of abuse or that he or she is in an abusive relationship. Those of us who observe such behavior may immediately recognize something is abnormal, but the one who has known nothing but abuse considers his or her life circumstance to be normal. ("Everyone gets insulted by their spouse" or "My mother was slapped around by my father all the time . . . so I figured that my husband was just like Ďall men areí when he hit me"). The cycle can go on and on and be passed down from one generation to the next . . . thus the cycle of abnormal and unacceptable behavior can be propagated and even become more normalized (more violent!)!

Perhaps this is why Jesus tells us these little stories about characters who act out of their "normally established values" on one another. Itís because Jesus wants us to study the actions of these characters and to question what they are saying and examine closely what they are doing in the narrative. With the overall purpose being that we are trying to discover what it is that Jesus is saying to us!

Consider the circumstances of Lazarus who lived his whole life in a kind of misery and suffering Ė in poverty and subservience. "COULD IT BE THAT LAZARUS CONSIDERED HIS POSITION IN LIFE AS NORMAL?? In some families and cultures in the world (dare I say even here in Emmitsburg? There are some individuals who may drop out of school, or who become pregnant before marriage, or who consider themselves as unworthy or unable to improve their lot in life, because"Thatís how its always been in our family" or "In our part of town" or "in our country . . . women never go to school" or "never get the high paying jobs." Other individuals and families have held on to racial bias, old hatreds, addictions or violent behavioral traits that are being passed on to second and third generations. How can the cycles of our unacceptable norms be stopped??

I would propose the first solution is to become aware of what your "norm" is. In the lesson today . . . we become aware that the Rich Manís norm is his indifference toward Lazarus who is suffering. This misdirected outlook on the poor and sick has led to the Rich Manís placement at the "lower and hotter" position of eternal destiny. He has yet to acknowledge there was a problem and that is his problem! If you are becoming aware that your attitudes, values and comprehension of "modes of normalcy" are not normal after all, then you are moving toward the first stage of healing.

There are many great resources for improving your understanding of yourself and the sometimes undetectable "negative norms" that have become rooted in your life. You might wish to attend a self-help group or better yet, a twelve step group such as AA. Such groups can help you by the wisdom of the people there. Drinking is not the cause of domestic violence . . . it is a learned behavior and it is only made worse by the addition of drugs or alcohol. Getting slapped around or continually put down by your spouse is also "not a normal behavior." IF this has been your experience, break free of that relationship or contact a womenís shelter or domestic violence program Ė there are many such programs (see footnote below). Get help, talk with your pastor or priest, your life and your childrenís safety may depend on it. Donít be ashamed! Get Help! Whatever it takes!!

Know that bigotry, violence, and abuse are not normal, God is love and wants us to experience joy, education and order in our lives!! There is a whole new life that is made possible by the love of God found in Jesus. Lazarus had suffered especially badly in the last days of his life, you would have wanted for him to get some help. Your life is also of great value to God . . . get yourself some help if you can. If you feel unable to help yourself, then ask a friend to go with you or to help you get the help you need. If you know of someone who is needing to see the error of their ways, whether they are an abuser or a victim, then you may be the person who can begin the process of healing, but keep in mind that some situations require professional assistance and you should not try to convince someone of the error of their ways if they are not ready to change themself . . . avoid conflict and remain safe if a "violent norm" has been a personís reality. Seek professional consultation if this is the case.3

If you recognize that God loves you, then you will also know that you can rise above the negative NORMS that have been presented to you in your life. You can go back to school and succeed because the voice of God is YES!! You can do anything with Godís help! You who have never known tenderness and caring and concern and who have hardened yourself in order to bear up under the "abusive conditions" that were your norms . . . you can use that same protective strength to go out into the world and overcome the educational and social barriers that have formerly held you back. God will show the way beyond the rich manís gate. You can be healed of the sores, chase away the dogs and overcome the odds that otherwise loom over lives that have not enculturated a "new positive norm" of existence.

May Christ draw especially near to you and all who seek peace, order and a "positive norm" for life.

Amen.

Read more writings of Pastor Jon