Sermon on Luke 16:19-31
Luke 16:19-31 Hsinchu City, Taiwan
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Arthur A. Just
25 September 2022
The Ongoing Feast 持續的筵席
Today the evangelist St. Luke takes us into the very precincts of heaven and hell through Jesus’ vivid story of the rich man and Lazarus. When Lazarus died he entered into his glory into the bosom of Abraham at the ongoing feast of heaven – at his death, the rich man into the torture of Hades where he now suffers among the flames.
In this life the rich man has taken merry-making to excess; to feast everyday illustrates the improper use of possessions. Like the rich fool he does not see that all that he has is gift, and that every gift from God is to be shared with those who have not — like poor Lazarus lying by his door in need of a few crumbs from his table. The simplicity of the rich man’s death stands in contrast to the lavish opulence of his life: “the rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, lifting his eyes, being in torture, he saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus at his bosom.”
Jesus knew the heart of this rich man, and he saw his actions — that he was a lover of money, did not use his possessions to perform acts of mercy and charity, that his life of feasting was high among men but detestable before God. The ongoing feast of heaven was not to be his.
Lazarus’ poor life is pathetic and pitiable, representing all the outcasts of Israel, the poor, the disabled, the lame, the blind who Jesus tells the Pharisees to invite to their feasts precisely because they cannot repay them — they will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. To do this is to show mercy — to give alms — which is mercy-giving — to use the gifts God has given us in love and charity. Lazarus is the perfect recipient for almsgiving. But the rich man does use of his possessions properly. His obsession with the pleasures of possessions causes him to ignore Lazarus. Instead, the dogs lick his wounds!
At this moment, Jesus introduces the Great Reversal. Lazarus dies and is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham, an extraordinary event for someone as insignificant as Lazarus. He may not have feasted at the rich man’s table, but now he feasts forever in the bosom of Abraham. Lazarus is now comforted by God, and the rich man is in torment. The beatitude of Jesus in the Sermon on the Plain is coming to fulfillment in this story: “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” What a clear illustration of the nature of the kingdom. And with the Great Reversal there is a great divide — there is no crossing over the chasm between heaven and hell.
The Great Reversal of this story only happens because there was another Great Reversal, where a man from heaven broke into our world, and “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” The Great Reversal is about the One who was poor for you, who hungered in the wilderness for you, who wept for you as he entered Jerusalem, who received hate, insults, and exclusion for you, and who was cast out and crucified outside Jerusalem as evil because he was the Son of Man. This poor man Jesus bore in his body all your sores, all your guilt, all your shame, all your sins. Jesus Christ shows that all blessedness comes from his humility in the face of mounting persecution and a shameful death on a cross.
During his life of suffering, begging for crumbs from the rich man’s table, Lazarus was already feasting in the kingdom of God, even though it didn’t appear that way. For Lazarus lived his life listening to Moses and the prophets and believing what they foretold about the Messiah’s Great Reversal. He believed that one day God would become one of us — become poor so that we might become rich. He would suffer in our place so that we could join him in heaven with all the saints. Jesus came offering us heaven now, dwelling among us in his incarnate flesh and then remaining among us through the living voice of his Word and by his bodily presence in body broken, blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.
The rich man during his life did not listen to Moses and the prophets — did not go to synagogue — did not give alms — did not embody the kingdom in a life of mercy and charity. Now, in torment, he begins to think of others, his brothers, and asks for a miraculous sign — that Abraham send Lazarus to bear witness to them. The rich man, even now, while in torment, still does not understand the reality of the kingdom. He does not consider the Word of God, the testimony of Moses and the Prophets to be enough to produce repentance. Like many before him, he desires a miraculous sign. If only someone would rise from the dead, he says, and tell my brother about this place of torment.
Someone did rise from the dead. The one who was rich and became poor for you — he has risen from the dead. Jesus of Nazareth appeared before the Emmaus disciples on the afternoon of Easter. He expounded to them through Moses and the prophets and all the Scriptures that the Christ must suffer and then enter into his glory. He showed them that the entire Old Testament is about him — about his death and resurrection.
Such catechesis on the road to Emmaus caused their hearts to burn, but their eyes are not opened to see the crucified and risen Christ standing before them. Only after he breaks bread are they able to see Jesus – a banquet at Emmaus that is a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom which has no end — a banquet with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the saints. In the breaking of the bread with the risen Christ, the Emmaus disciples enter into the ongoing feast with Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.
As the baptized you see yourselves only in terms of how you see Jesus. Your union with Christ in the waters of baptism is to enter into his body, and therefore into heaven, for wherever Jesus is, there is bosom of Abraham and all the angels and archangels and the entire company of heaven. Through radical repentance and a violent break with the past, we enter the ongoing feast where we show mercy as the Father in heaven has shown mercy to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen