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Luke’s Sleepwalker

September 19, 2016

In this week’s gospel lesson, Dr. Luke recounts a story told by Jesus describing a wealthy fellow: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” (Luke 16: 19).[1] In today’s parlance, he is the guy in the Ermenegildo Zegna suit, glancing down at his President’s Rolex as he drives up Pacific Coast Highway in his GT Convertible MC Centennial Maserati to his Malibu estate on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He opens the gate to his Mediterranean villa remotely and ignores a homeless person scrounging through the trash bins for scraps of leftovers, with a mangy dog by his side: “At his gate laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores” (Luke 16: 20-21).

We feel safe reading about a fictitious rich man dressed in a purple robe and a beggar named Lazarus from a Middle Eastern society 2,000 years ago, but less so when the beggar is in our midst in the 21st century, and we are the ones in our comfortable homes with food on the table every day. We have a Lazarus in our town. His name is Timmy. The genius of classic literature is that it relevant across the centuries and spans continents of different societies. The Bible is that and much more. It recorded God’s words when he walked on earth as Jesus.

Jesus continues the story about Malibu Mike and Timmy to the end of their lives and beyond. Timmy is ushered into his eternal reward in heaven. Malibu Mike lands in a “place of torment” and asks Abraham to warn his five brothers “so they will not also come to this place of torment” (Luke 16: 27). Speaking for Abraham, Jesus replies, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16: 31). Jesus told this story as he made his last trip from Galilee to Jerusalem, where he would die and be raised from the dead. He knew what he was talking about.

We have a tendency to sleepwalk through our days lost in our own problems and ignore those in our midst who are hurting and in need. We feel sorry for Timmy and those who live among us who can’t support themselves, but we don’t know what to do. Sometimes the only sensible thing to do is to donate our time and other resources to programs to help the Timmys in our society.

But the point of Jesus’ story was not just that we should do what we can to help those in need, but it is also a warning to those of us who sleepwalk through life without concern for the eternal picture. Jesus knew that even the miracle of his resurrection would not be enough to wake people up from the somnolent state they are in as they drift through life without concern for their eternal souls: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16: 31).

The prophet Amos warned against complacency: “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion . . . [who] lie on beds of ivory . . . dine on choice lambs and fattened calves . . . [and] strum away on your harps . . . drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions . . . you will be the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.” (Amos 6:1-7). My study Bible notes that “Great wealth and comfortable life-styles may make people think they are secure, but God is not pleased if we isolate ourselves from others’ needs. God wants us to care for others as he cares for us. His kingdom has no place for selfishness or indifference . . . Using our wealth to help others is one way to guard against pride and complacency.” (Life Application Bible, NIV, p. 1547).

The psalmist warns: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” (Psalm 146: 3,4).

The next time you see the Timmy in your town remember that this life is transitory, and that your roles could be reversed in the blink of an eye. It is worth thinking about. And after you think about it, open your heart to the one who died on the cross for you over two thousand years ago, and whose spirit remains within you to carry you across the threshold into his arms when you take your last breath.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost are Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Luke 16: 19-31.

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