Overcoming the Great Chasm

Scripture     Luke 16: 19-31


                                 Jesus told this parable to those among the Pharisees who loved money:

                         “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 lick his sores.

                              ‘The poor man died and was carried away by angels to be with Abraham… “



Luke’s account of the mythic story (possibly Egyptian) of the rich man, Dives, and the poor man, Lazarus, underscores what discipleship in the new “Covenant of Love” will require of us. Jesus’ preaching has been proclaiming that to be living in the ‘Kingdom of God’ we will find ourselves opening our hearts with tenderhearted compassion for the poor, the defenseless, the one most in need, right in front of us. Lazarus is right there at his doorstep!


For the Pharisees who loved money, they did not see their circumstances as evil nor were they mishandling ‘mammon’. They were successful and exacting keepers of the Law and thought themselves justified before God as being righteous. The rich man in this story wasn’t an evil person as we normally think of evil. He has not caused Lazarus’ poverty, at least not directly. He did not even chase Lazarus away from his gate. He merely ignored him. But Jesus is sharpening their awareness when he reveals to them that this blocking the flow of compassion and generosity is a great offence in this new covenant of Love. This withholding of one’s abundance and this kind of blind indifference to the agony of Lazarus was for them ‘the great chasm’ – the root sinfulness – the painful dis-connection that keeps happening within the human family.

With the retelling of this story, Jesus longs to help them and us overcome ‘the great chasm’ between the two sides. He sees the urgency to set the reality and the imperative of loving one’s neighbor before them. The story is set up to show the inherent disharmony and disconnect in this relationship and points us to a call to make a decision, a radical choice, based on ‘kingdom’ values.


Here at this earthly banquet table sits a rich man inside his house while a poor man Lazarus, sits outside the house, longing for even a few crumbs from the master’s table. Then, such a shocking reversal of how it will be in the ‘kingdom of God’…which is, already here and now!  Then, at the eschatological banquet, sits the poor man, resting in the bosom of Abraham while a rich man sits languishing outside the feasting table, longing for a drop of water.


It is important to understand that Jesus is not saying God rewards the good and punishes the bad. What the gospel is saying: “Good is good, evil is evil. If you do what is good, you enjoy the fruits of the good. If you do what is evil, you suffer evil.”  And here we also need to correctly interpret Hades or Sheol – not as the “hell” we have for centuries of Christian catechesis heard of - stated as an eternal fire and brimstone. Rather hell is the ‘abode of the dead. The meaning of Jesus’ teaching here is that if you choose death, you will in fact be dead. Lifelessness is to be in Hades, Sheol. It is nonlife, nonexistence. There are people who are dead already now. They may be walking around in their bodies, but they are dead inside. God is now offering you life, saying ‘Live in the kingdom. Choose life. Choose love. Choose sharing. Choose communion. They last forever. We call that forever, ‘heaven’. 

 "Heaven and hell are states of being. Hell is the state of being where you don’t love anymore; it is to be cut off, to be alone, to be dead/without life.”  (R. Rohr, The Good News according to Luke, p. 171)

And Jesus promises that once we have made the choice for ‘heaven’, for  God’s kingdom - not mammon, not material possessions, not one’s own ego needs, not for ‘hell’ – we will experience the Divine Love within us, overflowing and empowering us, making us capable of loving ourselves and all others. There will be such a flow of generosity, compassion, and service that comes forth from God-within us. We will create these bridges of compassion. Compassion will heal our wounded human family. Jesus has come to set us free, to liberate us from oppressive cultural practices and religious legalisms that stifle the Spirit. “Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.” The great chasm between living in a state of heaven or hell, between living in fear or in faith, between life and death itself has been fixed now by Jesus. He has walked over that bridge and invites us to follow in his example. Healthy Christians are now attracting others by their cheerful and generous witness of choosing life, life more abundantly. 


This week, I pray that we might allow this Lazarus and Dives Gospel story, help us to overcome those tensions in our own lives where we are still striving to bridge those chasms ~ between our choices for life or death, our choices for good or evil, and our choices for false self or true self.  May we stay awake and aware of those ‘heaven’ moments and those ‘hell’ moments … and move towards the bridge of redeeming grace that is found in surrendering to the power of Christ. The encouragement from today’s gospel is that Jesus is inviting us all to be his ‘kingdom’ followers. So as we consider that wonderful gathering up of all the people of God throughout the world, who freely come choosing to live in these kingdom values, we can be full of rejoicing. There are many bridge-persons today who are witnesses and agents of transformation. They are helping to overcome the great chasm that keeps the human family alienated and trapped in fear. They live and preach a gospel of grace and freedom.  


Carrying Grace    I will be 'the bridge over troubled waters.' I will be God’s instrument of peace. 



#4 Betty Mellon 2010-09-27 21:00
This week's Sunday reading reveals to me the lived reality of people today in our global world as was the situation prevalent in Jesus' time. The scripture words speak volumes with, " ... Lazarus, sits outside the house, longing for even a few crumbs from the master's table." I ponder with this passage and think of the experiences of people who are presently homeless. Although at times I anguish at the human condition, I am consoled and deeply moved by Jesus' parable with the words, "The poor man died and was carried away by angels to be with Abraham." I seek to live the kingdom values of love and campassion to all particularly those in dire needs in our world.
#3 arletteh 2010-09-26 10:16
LIFE is the rod and the staff through the darkest valley. Life is trust that there is a road through the wilderness-that silence and solitude bring their fruits of love that unites.-that the narrow road of discipleship lead to the infinite horizons of love and commitment and joy .Life is trust that bthe lost will be found in truth, that the last shall be first , for love has deepened them to bring new ripples of change!
#2 arletteh 2010-09-26 10:10
LIFE is the courage to descend with Jesus into hell where our false selves of fear and greed are transformed into our true selves,hidden in Christ. Life is- Christ's pioneering through death into life that has no death,the paschal mystery. Life is-finding the heart of God's identity-COMPAS SION :"I have seen the misery of my people"-Life is -the message to Joseph;"You must name him JESUS , for he shall his people from their sins. " Life is-trust that the troubled waters will be calmed"The voice of the Lord is over the waters--the Lord will bless his people with peace-Ps 29_
#1 arletteh 2010-09-26 09:42
Death is -the attitude of "I don't care"or "What csn I do to change things.It's the system:it doesn't hurt me." Death is -not seeing the poor one as a human being---Death is -taking things for granted;-)eath is--the attitude of "as long as I'm o.k" Death is--turning away.Death is --not seeing the poor one right at my doorstep Death is-my false self wanting to be first.LIFE is-the daring to descend into hell with Jesus,where he shows us our true self.Life is :the paschal mystery:life,de ath and rising again out of all our troubles and agonies. Life is-finding there the heart of God's identity:COMPAS SION;"I have seen the misery of my people"Life is :"God saves."

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