Rose and I would watch the show Parenthood each week, wrapt to the Braverman family. Two aging parents, their adult children with children of their own. And one particular storyline divided our household.
Proper 21 | Luke 16:19-31
One of the Braverman kids was having marital trouble. The husband, who had sacrificed his career throughout their marriage, was now struggling with going back to work. As his wife, Julia was struggling now to adjust to staying at home.
Each week we’d watch and it was painful. Seeing a marriage crumble under a lack of communication and empathy. These two struggling independently, they couldn’t see how they were one.
After several weeks of this, Rose spoke up and said
“Why is Joel being so stupid?”
The comment surprised me. From where I sat, Joel was the one being wronged. His wife wasn’t seeing his pain. His struggles. That he was having a hard time letting go of being a full-time parent. That he had put so much of his life into that.
But Julia, on the other hand, well I didn’t get what her problem was. I mean, I got it, it was more like
“do you even know your husband?”
Anyone who has grown up with our society’s cultural norms would know how hard these transitions are to go from home back to work. I suggested that she’s the one being stupid.
It’s interesting how we would go back and forth about these characters because they embodied a worldview with which we resonate. As a woman, Rose identified with Julia strongly and as a man, I so resonated with Joel.
It’s about gender and identity and politics and life experience and the whole mixture of work and family and life and how imbalanced every single day is.
This is the territory Jesus is mining in the parables in chapter 16.
He knows our expectations and how we’re bound to struggle seeing the kindom in the midst of our world (Luke 16:1-13). If you were here last week, we talked about this fascinating parable of dislocation. How the kindom of GOD is poking through a material world, even in the form of a manager of questionable character.
Our lectionary skips over a few verses of difficult teaching. I suspect there are many preachers happy we don’t have to deal with them. But there is some extremely intricate details in verses 14-18.
Here we have a reminder from the evangelist that the Pharisees are “lovers of money”. Money, as distinct from wealth, is important. For it shows the Pharisees aren’t hoarding possessions, but power.
Then we get a piece about trying to force our way into the kindom. A direct rejection of “by any means necessary” and fighting fire with fire mentalities. That we wouldn’t embody the kindom now to build it here.
Lastly, a teaching on divorce. Which when tied with these other teachings, leads to a critique of the escape hatch mentality. That we don’t have to do the hard work of discipleship or embodying the kindom in our homes and personal lives. We can just walk away from responsibility.
[Please note that this is not my view of divorce, but how Jesus seems to use it here as a rhetorical device. There is much more to be said on the subject of divorce than could be done justice here.]
This leads us to the rich man, Abraham, and Lazarus.
Jesus’s challenging parable is a true nightmare. One of confusion for some. But it is a perfect example of “not getting it.” Or more precisely “how easy it is to take sides.”
Jesus has been highly critical of both wealth and money itself. He has taught them that wealth deludes and confuses and subjugates. That wealth is an idol and a god worshipped. And that love of money and wealth means we can’t love GOD.
This is our entry point. So when Jesus starts talking about a rich man, we can recognize another rich man from the previous parable. This time his fortunes have changed. He is no longer the most powerful man throughout the region. He is now powerless and deeply suffering. His wealth in life cannot protect him from his life eternal.
Now we know not to side with him, of course. We are led to sit in the shoes of Lazarus who is now being loved by Abraham and the attachment to life in the divine family.
The contrast couldn’t be starker and our sympathies couldn’t be more obvious.
But does that distract us from the rich man’s pain? Does it prevent us from seeing his problem?
He’s sitting on the other side of a chasm, and we’re all so good with GOD and with Jesus, we surely must be hanging out with Lazarus and Abraham in our eternal homes.
Can we see over the chasm?
To that space where the rich man is? Who has no name? Lazarus and Abraham are named. But this man is a nobody. Lost to eternity.
And what of his plight? What gets him there? His wealth? His power?
What is keeping him on that side? Is it the chasm itself?
It separates these two sides. Of course, the difference between the sides is in understanding of the kindom.
The rich man keeps asking them to come to him. He keeps asking the divine to serve him where he’s at. He doesn’t have to move. He doesn’t know how to bridge the gap, let alone mend it. He’s over there. And he expects us to come to him.
Always the wealthy and powerful. Never responsible. Never serving.
We had a perfect real world example show up this week. I love when that happens. The perfect illustration.
John Stumpf’s clueless grilling by Congress.
John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo recently testified before Congress. This was after his company got caught opening accounts for their customers that their customers didn’t know about. They were messing with people’s credit and undermining the banking system. Thousands affected.
And here he is, a man who profited $200 million dollars from this illegal practice, sitting before Congress. They ask him how he is holding his people responsible for this. All the people: all those who fed, benefited, and created this culture. And they are asking him how he is being held responsible for his role.
Not just the underlings who did it. But the people who created it.
And his responses were so clueless. To his situation. The pain he was causing. How unfair the system is. That he could pocket $200 million from stock increases. Increases which came so directly from these illegal moves.
They asked him how nothing was happening to him, but someone taking a couple twenties from the till would be fired instantly.
And yet the power of these moments isn’t found in the clueless one who can’t see beyond his own station: his own sense of power.
It is in us.
And how we stare at this chasm, this gap dividing. How many say a protestor needs to stand up and he says let’s stop shooting black people. Gaps on guns and protection and economics and labor. How we’d rather talk past each other than to each other.
The gaps in our families. In our homes. In our own souls. The gaps between who we want to be and who we really are.
How do we not only mind or bridge those gaps, but as Sister Simone told us, to “mend” them.
It starts with empathy. It starts by acknowledging that we are all feeling pain. That we are all struggling. That we all have something to deal with.
But it doesn’t end there.
Because so many of us struggle to move from I feel your pain to I feel your pain.
To pull ourselves from that place of eternal conscious torment to that place where we are not the ones always being served, always receiving, always taking, always ordering those around us to do and be who we want them to be and to become like Lazarus. Empty. And free.
Loving our spouse. Kids. Church. In all of its messed up and confusing glory. To not spend our time looking for wealth and power, but to serve and love.
To not only understand their pain, but come to that place of true glory. Without $200 million in ill-gotten gains or the need to win an argument.
To overcome the breach, to mend the gaps, to love beyond ourselves and the other, not for who we claim they are, but for who they really are.