This is a multipart attempt to look at how my Anabaptist heritage interacts with the thoughts of Shane Claiborne in his contribution on Economic Sharing in the “12 Marks of a New Monasticism.”
Abraham said, “in your lifetime you received your good things” (you enjoyed everything that you had, the food, the drink, the clothing, the comfort and ease, the approval of friends), “while Lazarus received bad things.” It seems that Lazarus did not choose these bad things, as the implication is that he was so sick he had to be brought and laid in the gate of the wealthy man with his festering sores. It seems the wealthy man is in Hades because of his ignorance of the deep need that literally laid in the gateway of his house every single day. When this conclusion is compared to other significant sections of the Scriptural witness, this is shockingly, absurdly substantiated. As it is said in the book of Amos;
“Seek the LORD and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire; it will devour, and Bethel will have no one to quench it. You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground, you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth. You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good.”
What I would suggest this passage from Amos, together with Jesus’ story, forcefully brings home to us is this; what happens between human beings is an issue God is deeply concerned about. Our actual physical relationships with persons reveal whether we are righteous and faithful or unfaithful and therefore completely missing the point. Therefore, what is “good” is not merely my individual or family comfort, but the meeting of the needs of others surrounding me in society. God cares that Lazarus was suffering, that he was hungry, that he was covered with sores, and God cares that the wealthy man ignored him. Evidently God cares enough that the wealthy man ends up in Hades.
Abraham says to the wealthy man exactly what our American society tells us every day in a million ways is the goal of life, “In your lifetime you received your good things,” or in other words, “you pursued comfort and ease and fame and power and fine clothing and fine food with people of your social class, and you did this while a man literally wasted away in the doorway of your house, and now you suffer while God has raised him up.” This would have been a shocking conclusion to Jesus’ audience, and it is a shocking conclusion for our individualized, privatized “Christian” society today. Jesus underscores why this conclusion should not have been shocking at all in the last stage of the story through the final words of the wealthy man;
“Send Lazarus to my family,” the wealthy man says. “Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them.”
Jesus’ intent here is to draw his listeners into the Scriptural story of how the LORD has shaped them to consider issues related to wealth and poverty, blessing and cursing. This begs the question then; what, in fact, do Moses and the Prophets have to say?