Midweek Faith Lift
November 16, 2022
“The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus”
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
November 7, 2022
Patients between the ages of 4 and 9 at Children’s Health of Orange County no longer have to be transported to treatment in wheel chairs and gurneys. Now, they can drive themselves down the hospital’s hallways in a small electric car developed by Honda. Parents say they’re hearing their kids laugh for the first time in a long time.
“Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort or healing: We are not alone.” – Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Affirmative Prayer: Infinite Presence, I give thanks for all who bring joy to others, and for the life-giving energy that laughter radiates through spirit, mind, and body. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
This week we are exploring another parable, which is new to me for sure, “The Rich Man and Lazarus” which Dr. Michael calls the Law of Compensation. After reflecting on it this week, it also seems to me to have the energy of the Law of Karma. Our opening story about the kids and the hospital car seems to be about how we find a middle way to positive compensation or karma! So let’s explore it together. It is in Luke 16: 19-31 and it reads like this:
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 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.’ 25 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. 26 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.’ 27 He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 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.’ ”
Wow! That is a lot to digest, is it not? This part of the gospel of Luke is about money and power and the possibility for both good and evil. It seems to represent the very traditional story of condemning wealth and privilege and lifting up the poor and downtrodden. Woe to those with wealth and power who do not heed the needs of their less fortunate fellow humans. And it seems to suggest the Jesus was illustrating the nature of hell, or as this describes it, Hades. The Jewish faith does not have a belief in “hell” as a place as traditional Christianity describes it. It is more of a shadowy “netherworld” of unknowns. So what do we make of this story, especially if we are to interpret it metaphysically?
First of all, the specific mention of the purple robe and fine clothes and feasting suggests not only wealth, but power, political and temporal power. And the name Lazarus which, is a common name throughout the Bible, means “one who has been helped by God.” The story describes a scenario of how the rich man and Lazarus have been brought together, and as Dr. Michael points out, “the parable does not specifically state that Lazarus is necessarily a good or righteous man. Nor does it specify the rich man as evil.” (p. 221, The Hidden Parables of Jesus) That is very interesting to note as we continue our journey.
And in an unusual illustration of love and compassion, it is not the rich man who helps Lazarus, it is the dogs who care for him. The dogs represent an awakened unconditional love, perfect selfless love, service and faith as they care for Lazarus. That is a powerful message of example in this story. When both men finally die, there is another plot twist. We don’t hear of Heaven, we hear that Lazarus is with “Father Abraham,” the great patriarch of Israel, a known entity within Judaism. It is clearly a place of love and comfort for Lazarus and an elevated status for sure.
Now what about Hades? Well, in the original Greek word is eidos, which means “to see or to know” and translated to English it has meant “the unseen” or “unknown.” So our rich man is in a state where he is unable to see or to know. And while the story describes this unknown place as a place of “torment” again, translated from the Greek, is “basanos,” which means “touchstone.” So what does that mean for him? Well in ancient times, a touchstone was a hard black stone that was used to test the purity of gold and silver. Many objects were rubbed on the “touchstone” to determine the presence of gold and silver. There were also many ancient forms of alchemy, which attempted to transmute base metals into gold, hence the need to test them.
It is metaphysically a method to test what is “real,” what is pure and of higher consciousness. So we have the rich man in an unknown state where his status is uncertain and his purity is being tested and determined. Just how deficient is he in an awakened consciousness that would lift him out of this unknown condition of hades? By contrast, we have Lazarus, the beggar who is in a known state because he is with Father Abraham, a well-established standard of righteousness, or moral and ethical treatment. Both these men have gone through a figurative death experience, which again is what we too, experience during our lifetimes---a “death” of ego, of self-serving energy, which holds the possibility of transformation.
When the rich man begs for help, he is reminded that he has already had his “good things” which he apparently took for granted. And the story of the rich man is that he was blind to the suffering of others; he was un-awakened. He now very much wants a chance to awake, but it is really interesting in that he wants Father Abraham and Lazarus to do that for him. He wants a “Divine Rescue!” if not for himself, then at least for his 5 brothers who still have the possibility of “knowing” or “seeing” what really matters. Metaphysically, the number 5 represents “sense” consciousness, what we can know through our 5 senses. And what Father Abraham tells the rich man is that he had the opportunity to “see” a deeper Truth and a greater “Reality” and he did not do it.
What is really striking is that the rich man then asks for some kind of miracle, of one being raised from the dead to convince his brothers to wake up and see the error of their ways! And again, the message is that this is of no use either! If the brothers would not heed the teachings of Moses and the Prophets, there is no “miracle” sign that would make any difference. Wow! That is a powerful and hard truth. The bottom line message is that the only thing that truly wakes us up is experiencing the painful consequences of our choices. And by then it may be too late to make any real difference for us!
This past political election cycle has been especially difficult because of all the hateful rhetoric and extreme vilification of each side by the other. The efforts to control the system to preserve power across the nation, the physical attack of the family of elected leaders…..wow! It feels to me like we are living this parable right now. And the message is that, neither extreme of complete wealth and power or the complete absence of it will last forever. There is the larger Universe of Compensation or Karma! There is no Divine Rescue from this state, just a call to wake up and heed the consequences, which are irreversible by an outside source. We each have to do our own necessary work, there is no other way!
The process of waking up is an inside job not a con job. Transformation of consciousness is not alchemy, it happens with the unconditional love and care demonstrated by the dogs in this story! When we are open to each lesson in life, no matter how painful and difficult, then healing and spiritual and emotional growth is possible. But this happens as we live our lives, not as a divine intervention at the end of life. Consciousness awakens and grows in us as we open to grace, to the activity of Spirit in and through us. And it is when we are right up against it that what we do and say really matters.
I take strength from the words of John Lewis, Congressman and Civil Rights leader who on page 74 in the chapter “On Faith” from his book Carry On wrote this:
As difficult as it may seem today, with the killing of young Black people by the police, we have to keep faith that things will work out as they should, and in keeping with our principles and values. That doesn’t mean that you should sit idly by and watch events unfold. No, we must all be on the front lines getting into good and necessary trouble. But when change doesn’t happen in one day, or in one year, we can’t lose faith that the day will come. Faith is inherent and intrinsic. It is what has given me peace, tranquility and confidence, even in the darkest and dimmest moments of my life.
May we keep faith with John Lewis!
Blessings on the Path,