Lodema told the children last week that a parable is a story which
is meant to teach us something. That is true -- but I would nuance
that definition just a bit and say that a parable is a story from
which we can learn something. In other words, the story doesn’t
change, but what we bring to it can and does change. Part of the
reason that parable are such a rich and important part of Judeo-Christian
tradition is that their meaning goes beyond the simple and obvious.
They are stories we can share with children, but they are also teachings
we can come back to again and again as adults and not exhaust their
message. Parables are true -- but their truth doesn’t lie
in verifiable facts like we’d find in a news report; their
truth lies in what they reveal about the character and the kingdom
of God. Jesus knew more about the character and the kingdom of God
than anyone before or since.
Luke 15 is a series of three parables about lost things: a lost
sheep and the shepherd who leaves the rest of the flock to find
it and bring it home; a woman who lost a coin, scours the house
until she finds it and has a party afterward; and a lost son, who
decides to return home as a slave, but is welcomed with open arms
by his father, and with resentment from his older brother. Great
Luke 16 is a set of two parables about money, with a little Pharisee-bashing
tucked in between. Last Sunday Betty tackled the story of the manager
who cheated his boss and was praised for his shrewdness in looking
out for himself. Lest anyone miss that these are teaching about
money, Jesus says “You cannot serve God and wealth.”
And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, ridicule him. Never
a good idea.
So Jesus tells a second parable, the one we heard read this morning
about a rich man and poor man named Lazarus. And right from the
get-go, Jesus original listeners and we should know that something
unusual is going on here. Characters in parables don’t usually
have names: the shepherd, the woman with the coin, the prodigal
son and his brother, their father -- none of these are named. Usually
in the Bible when someone is named, it’s because they’re
important -- either because of their relationship to Jesus -- followers
like Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or have positions of political
or religious power -- such as Herod, Pilate, or Annas, the high
priest. Lazarus is the only character in any parable who is named.
And he isn’t powerful, or even wealthy: we’re told right
at the beginning of the parable that he’s poor, hungry, and
covered with sores. Right after we learn that he dies. Two pieces
of information to tuck away as we learn from this parable: First,
we know that Jesus had a best friend named Lazarus -- the brother
of Mary and Martha. What did Jesus do for Lazarus? He raised him
from the dead. Second: The Hebrew meaning of the name Lazarus is
“God has helped.” Those might be relevant later.
Back to money -- because it’s always about the money, right?