XVII Pentecost, Year C
Jer 32:1-3a,6-15 or * Am 6:1a,4-7
Ps 91:1-6,14-16 * Ps 146
1 Tm 6:6-19
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, "Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the LORD: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it;
Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me,"Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open
deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
* (Amos 6:1a)
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria, the notables of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel resorts!
* (Amos 6:4-7)
Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.
(1 Timothy 6:6-19)
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time–he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 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. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 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.’ 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. 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.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 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.’"
Today we merge the Anthropological Reading with the Historical/Cultural Section. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus reflects many rich and varied interpretations. Some see one parable, others a parable with two endings. Some see part or all of it as traceable to the historical Jesus; others see primarily Lukan creation. We have looked at several interpretations of this parable and all of them can be seen contributing an essential element to the overall anthropological reading we will offer. Hopefully, in so doing we will demonstrate the appropriateness of applying mimetic theory not only to the biblical text itself but also to its interpreters (not least of all ourselves).
There are some assumptions that we engage when we come to a text like this. The first is that while Jesus may have utilized popular categories of apocalyptic (as a genre) to communicate with his contemporaries, the content of the categories is fundamentally altered. It is difficult to read the various Jewish apocalyptists and their writings and come away feeling that Jesus proclaimed such a view of God and God’s kingdom. The language may be the same but the substance has been transformed. One of the (admittedly few) merits of the Jesus Seminar was to come to this conclusion. For example, Jesus reverses the normal expectations of who comprises the in group and the "out group" at the last judgment.
Apocalyptic may well have been, as Kasemann puts it, ‘the mother of early Christianity.’ J. Christian Becker argued such for the Apostle Paul, Theissen for the development of the Synoptic tradition. But apocalyptic was not the only language system by which to conceive Jesus’ person and work. The Johannine literature and the ‘deutero’ Paulines as well as Luke-Acts are not structured with such an emphasis, their foundation is the wisdom-Torah tradition interpreted now in the light of the work of the Holy Spirit in the community. We must reconsider Jesus’ relation to apocalyptic, particularly in the light of what mimetic theory advances in regard to the ‘apocalypticism’ of the New Testament. As Tony Bartlett puts it, “Apocalyptic is an anthropological category.”
Girard advances several important theses regarding apocalyptic, particularly as found in the Gospels. In Things Hidden Girard observes that the apocalyptic discourse of Mark 13 (and par.) does not stipulate God as the origin of violence (cosmic or otherwise). The apocalyptic distress that visits the creation is all of human origin. God’s wrath then, is that he “gives us over” to the consequences of our own violent evil. This is a major hermeneutical shift in apocalyptic thinking. All other apocalyptic Jewish literature attributes the destruction of the end of the world to the Creator. Not so Jesus or the gospel writers.
Second, the apocalyptic scenario is set up as a consequence of the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The victimage mechanism escalates out of control because, in the preaching of the gospel, it is exposed and rendered ineffective and inoperable. Vengeance therefore, is never sated. Violence grows and grows, but we do nothing different. How can we imagine that humankind would not respond to the growing crisis? One of the worst genocides in history is occurring right now in the Sudan and the world barely notices. The apocalypse is triggered when the victimage mechanism fails to bring "peace." Violence contiues to seeks better scapegoats, escalating out of control, and humanity experiences the ‘war of all against all.’
According to mimetic theory, Jesus and the gospel writers have consistently applied the hermeneutic that God is not violent even and especially here in their use of apocalyptic. If we do not subscribe to the Prince of Peace of the gospel we are left with the warrior Christ of Albert Schweitzer, Rudolf Bultmann or Tim LaHaye. Egads!
This parable then “does not aim to give information on the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell. Dialogue and description is all designed to point up the contrast in the conditions of the departed and to reinforce the Lukan doctrine that external circumstances on earth are no criterion of moral worth.” Frederick Danker (Jesus and the New Age).
We would miss the point of interpreting this parable were we to a) either see ourselves as ‘saved’ Lazarus and others as ‘damned’ or b) see ourselves as ‘poor’ Lazarus and others as the condemned ‘rich.’ Mimetic theory reminds us that "labeling" is a precursor to "lynching," to the death of the scapegoat. When we identify too quickly with the "saved" we merely switch victims, but we maintain the victimage mechanism. If God is not violent, then the categories of the parable need to be re-understood. There are not categories of "in" and "out," unless we see them as mimetically derived.
What then, is this unbridgeable chasm between Lazarus and the Rich Man? What does it represent? It is none other than the gap between theology grounded in the Cross and the "theology of glory." One belief makes available the God of forgiveness, the other only the god of wrath. In the parable, each lives with the "god" he has chosen. The Rich Man lives with a "god" who torments him because he believes in a "god" who gives him (and Lazarus) only what he deserves. Lazarus, who lives his life as one forever unclean, lives in the bosom of Abraham because he has chosen to believe in the God of the Cross, the God of mercy. Lazarus cannot traverse the chasm because the Rich Man does not believe in mercy.
Jesus points out to us that wealth like that of the Rich Man can only be accumulated by those who reject the God of the Cross, who actually believe that they "deserve" the "blessings" they receive, that they are truly separate beings from those whose lives do not bear the marks of holiness or blessing. It is impossible for one who views life from the perspective of the Cross to remain unmoved by the plight of the poor, or to feel deserving of the "blessings" entrusted to them. There is no crossing from one back and forth to the other (a wonderful image of "noblesse oblige") because "charity" of this sort does not alleviate the inner torment of the one who shares "her" wealth. It does not change the nature of her "god."
As noted, there are many interesting interpretations of this parable that grasp elements of the mimetic problem and hermeneutic. Jesus (or Luke) appears to be drawing on a stock of common folklore that the righteous and wicked can see each other in the age to come (4 Ezra 7.85, 93 and Syriac Baruch 51.5ff). The use of a common folk tale does not indicate Jesus’ own beliefs regarding the afterlife, rather, it is the astonishing turn of events within the parable that would have had his listeners heads spinning. They would have expected the rich man to be blessed in the afterlife and Lazarus punished but instead Jesus reverses these popularly expressed views.
We have not dealt yet with the ending of the parable, in part because interpreters of this text have often set it apart as an alternate ending or one added on. In fact, though, it is in perfect keeping with the contrast between theologies of glory and those grounded in the Cross. That is, the Rich Man’s request that his brothers be warned is met with the declaration by Abraham that "if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The irony here is inescapable. Jesus’ resurrection is surely intended. And the resurrection will convince no one! The moment of glory will convince no one. Only the Cross, the suffering of the innocent one, speaks the word that converts the heart.
To preach this text, our congregations can be led to the place of utter neediness, a place where they can allow themselves to rely on a mercy they do not deserve. No facile identification with "poor ol’ Lazarus" here, but rather, we can help them to see how close they (or most of them) are to the Rich Man. Once they can see how "unclean" they are in the eyes of the parable, in the eyes of their own gods of "deserving", once they see how undeserving of mercy they are in the eyes of their own gods, they may be willing to turn to the God that Lazarus knows, the God who chooses them apart from any sense of worth.