A sermon about Luke 16:19-35, Lazarus and the Unnamed Rich Man Delivered on September 29, 2019 at Egmond aan Zee, Old Catholic Church Parish, with Parish Priest, The Revd Rudolf Scheltingan. Egmond aan Zee is a village in the Municipality of Bergen on the North Sea coast in the Dutch province of North Holland.
Luke was known to be sensitive in poverty and strongly denounced the greed of money and power derived from it.
Originally, the parable was addressed to the Pharisees and to all like them, “lovers of money”. In this particular gospel according to Luke, it revealed two of the common calls of Jesus, (1) blessed are you who are poor (6:20) & (2) woe to you who are rich (6:24). Also, there are two parts in today’s Gospel story.
First, vv. 19-26, there is a reversal of placement here. The situation of the poor man Lazarus and that of the unnamed rich man. For all of Jesus’ parables, this is the only one that He uttered the name of the person in the story. Most importantly, the one named is Lazarus a very poor person in the story and not the rich man which is expectedly be the one named because of his place being somebody in the society. This is the way of Jesus, very intentional and not an ordinary way of revealing the social reality. If we read and try to understand this Gospel story in the light and in the perspective of the kingdom, it is very clear there is a reversal of the placements and situations in the normal or standard of God to that of ours. Those whom we usually see according to our criteria of power and social prestige are the most important but now are anonymous in the eyes of God. And those who are not important in our own standard are the ones important and prestigious in the eyes of God – they are the lost, the last and the least.
At this point, we are reminded to change our ways of seeing things. The Holy Scripture is teaching us time and again that the last shall be first, and the first last. Therefore, like this Gospel story we have now, should the services of the society, the government, the church be for those like unto Lazarus!
Second, vv.27-31, the rich man of this story showed his ignorance in the teaching of God and also of the situations of the poor. His request of sending people from the dead to tell his brothers and family about his fate manifested again of his self-interest. Instead of thinking of a remorse of his actions during his life on earth. But Abraham appropriately responded that it cannot be and it is useless.
Globally, there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor – between the advanced and the disadvantaged or third countries. Let us take Guatemala in Latin America and Philippines in order for us to see some comparisons.
The poverty rate in Guatemala is very high. According to the World Bank, 59.3 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In addition, 23 percent live in extreme poverty.
The United States is the number one importer and consumer of bananas in the world. It has US$2.8 billion or 18.1% of total bananas imports. Guatemala, on the other hand, is the US’s most important banana supplier; this country is the third largest banana exporting country globally, trailing Costa Rica and Columbia. Its exports have increased by 25% in recent times to stand at $623.4 million USD in value today. However, most critics say that the high production has been accomplished via an unjust exploitation of the non-unionized workers in the country. Sources show that workers for the banana companies there may earn as little as $3 per day without any added benefits. This is contrary to what the US Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) expects. A little better, the unionized workers there earn $10 per day with some added benefits. The US imported bananas totaling nearly 3.4 billion pounds from Guatemala in 2014.
The indigenous people in Guatemala are most affected by poverty. In fact, 79 percent of them live in poverty, while 40 percent of them live in extreme poverty. Eight in ten indigenous children suffer from chronic malnutrition, a condition that weakens their immune system and does not allow their bodies to fully develop. In the contrary, the USA keeps their people healthy by the imported bananas from Guatemala.
In the Philippines, about one in five of the Philippines’s 106 million people lives in extreme poverty, getting by on less than $2 a day. Many, including children, work long hours as street vendors or laborers to make enough to feed themselves. Hunger occurs the most in the agriculture and fishing sectors where 70 percent of workers are poor. Al Jazeera’s Jamila Alindogan met some of those struggling to earn a living and feed themselves in the capital Manila. Yet, going back to bananas, the Philippines is the third to Ecuador and Belgium of the world’s biggest exporters of bananas in 2014 with $1.1 billion.
By the way, according to my source, Netherlands is fourth of the highest banana importing countries in the world with $968.8 million (6.2%) next to USA, Belgium and Russia.
What does all of this mean for us now? It means that the disparity of ownership of the world’s resources is happening. As in the banana industry those who do not plant and grow them have consumed most and are living healthier than those who actually plant bananas. It means that exploitation is true and is happening now and in our midst. That Lazarus existS in our time. It exists not only among people in one country but it also exists among nations in the world.
This is the reason why drug trade is so appealing in the Philippines, in Asia and in Guatemala in the Latin America. It is not true that the drug problems ARE the cause of poverty but it is the poverty and impoverishment that makes Philippines, Guatemala and third countries a den of rampant drug addiction and that drug trading is growing so much because poor people will be forced to sell drugs just to earn a living. But then again the governments missed the point, but resorted to a killing spree which tens of thousands of people including innocent ones and even children as young as three years old have become victims. The record shows that 99% of them are poor.
The situation of Lazarus and the unnamed rich man in today’s gospel story is real in the global and world arena. You may not be the Lazarus in the story but please try also not to be the unnamed rich man. Today, this story should make every one of us feel uncomfortable knowing that there are a lot of Lazarus’ in our neighboring countries. We must find our ways to go out from our comfort zones and find those Lazaruses who, in the midst of the development have become victims, impoverished and are struggling.
Paraphrasing what Abraham in the story said, let us not wait for people from the dead to come and tell us what we should do to the Lazaruses in our time! The prophets and teachers are already here, the Word of the Lord has been preached to us. All we have to do is to act as the church is. We are the Church – being called by God to be His people, we are also sent. By virtue of God’s divine “calling” and “sending”, we have a missionary character. Come! Let us find the Lazaruses of our time and serve them.
May the Lord bless us to be a blessing to others! Amen.