The Other Lazarus
Gospel Reading for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C)
There was this guy named Lazarus and he died. But before you think you know where the story is going, this guy was not that Lazarus. Jesus never wept over him. He never came back from the dead. In fact, being the protagonist of a parable, this Lazarus is about as flesh and blood as Harry Potter or Scout Finch. That fictionality does not make our other Lazarus any less real.
The man Jesus brought back from the dead was kind of like a MacGuffin, a device that served to propel the gospel plot forward. Lazarus was evidence that Jesus was sent by God. In fact, Jesus gives this reason out loud in front of a crowd. Where Lazarus comforts, Other Lazarus confronts. He is the poor man begging at the gates. He is the literal neighbor living in the shadow of comfort. When he dies he goes to Abraham's side. The rich man heads to the less desirable place of the dead.
What arrests my attention is the factor behind the destinations for the two men. I am not sure we can say that this is a doctrinal statement on where we go when we die. But in the context of this story, each man's destiny is determined by their station in life. Abraham tells the rich man that he received good things in his life and Lazarus was the recipient of terrible things. And thus their roles have been reversed in the beyond. Abraham implies that the rich man could have avoided his fate had he listened to Moses and the prophets, had he been a good neighbor to Lazarus when they were on earth.
That gives me pause as someone who is relatively well off. It makes me stop and think as I reflect on the people in my life who can sit in the place of Other Lazarus. I try my best to follow Jesus, who followed the Law and the prophets, but is it enough? Afterlife aside, am I loving my neighbor as I should? Not just the poor neighbor, but the oppressed and marginalized, the hurting and lonely.