‘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.”’ (NRSV).
Ours is a cosmic story. It covers the gap between rich and poor, life and death, heaven and hell. Indeed it even covers generations: Abraham, Moses, the prophets, the present.
And the vast gap between Lazarus and our anonymous ‘rich man’ is not the least of these.
Our man of means dresses in the finery of a king and spends his days feasting. His is a life of lavish luxury.
Lazarus, however, seems only able to watch from a distance. He reclines not on cushioned couches, but by the rich man’s gate. He is covered in ‘sores’ and is constantly hungry. He keeps the company of ‘dogs’.
But his plight goes deeper: Lazarus is all too aware of the existence of the gap. For him it is ‘a great chasm’ that he is unable to cross: all he can do is ‘long (for) …what fell from the rich man’s table’.
But, sometimes, fortunes change.
Upon the passing of Lazarus heaven descends and he is ‘carried away by the angels’. There he meets a giant of Jewish history, Abraham.
But our rich man, who also dies, is ‘buried’.
It is quite the contrast.
Our rich man, however, is not done just yet. He is bold enough to initiate a conversation – to call across the divide – between heaven and hell. Despite his torment he sees and recognises both Abraham and Lazarus asking for their pity and compassion. It is a cry for mercy from one who has shown little.
But Abraham does little more than confirm the predicament the ex-rich man finds himself in. This chasm ‘has been fixed’.
He is, however, unwilling to give up the conversation just yet. He wants a warning sent to relatives – a special, unexpected, undoubtable warning. Someone from across the divide. Someone from the dead.
But, according Abraham – and, of course to the Jesus who is creating our story – even this will simply not be enough. If these brothers will not ‘listen’ to those who spoke from heaven in the past, they will neither converse with one more recently departed: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
It must have been a sobering conclusion for Jesus to arrive at. He has already begun to teach his disciples plainly about what is to come: ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’ (Luke 9:22).
Yes, the Christ will be killed, raised, and – as we know – appear.
But for many this epic crossing of the gap between God and people will still not be enough.
Even the resurrection does not guarantee our repentance and faith. That, it would seem, comes from a much deeper, humbler, and more transformational place. It comes from a desire to – of all things – ‘listen’.
As Jesus said so often, ‘Let those who have ears to hear, listen’.