A story of Lazarus that has nothing to with resurrection.

Signpost for Sunday September 25, 2016: Jer.32:1-3a, 6-15; Ps.91:1-6; 1 Tim.6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31.

I think that verses 3b – 5 are omitted from the Jeremiah reading because they are just “back-story” in this context, and the lectioneers (is there such a word?) want us to concentrate on the family property, which is very important in itself. This portrays long-term confidence in God at a time when danger is very likely.

Like many, I have problems with the Psalm. It is beautiful language, beautiful loving trust towards God, and it has no sense of that bargaining that mars so much of what passes for religion. On the other hand it is totally unrealistic, as a reading of the book of Job would show.

The Gospel story is not original to Jesus. It is found in Egyptian and other sources, and at least seven times in Rabbinic literature. And it is not here told by Jesus, but remembered and retold by Luke. Even assuming that the story meant much the same in Egypt and among the Rabbis, that is three different situations, with perhaps three slightly different meanings. And it is hard to tell if the ending is an add-on, and if so, by whom. Now it is in English (perhaps you and I read the same translation, perhaps not) and translation alters the ambiguities of every language.

This Gospel reading has nothing to do with the resurrection. It is cast in pre-Christian forms in this respect. Today we would say it is about social justice. And social justice is formed and deformed by individual attitudes.  In some churches, this Sunday is Social Justice Sunday. Other churches might have backed off such a dangerous idea.

One way this pericope is time-bound is clear if you compare it with the Apostles Creed and 1 Peter 3. 19-20. There, Jesus is portrayed as descending into Hell to preach to the worst people in history, those who refused to listen to Noah, and to bring the Cross-love of God to them. So there is no boundary fixed between heaven and hell. And the rich man in our story has done exactly what the people of Noah’s time have done; refused to listen to the clear word of God.

Andrew

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