Welcome to Week 2 of Easter! Some folks call this season “Eastertide,” which is fun, but I just think of it as the Time of Resurrection Life. Here we are in the midst of the presence of the risen Christ, and yet there is even more to come. Hallelujah! What a Savior! Am I right? Let’s worship together today…

Praise to our Crucified and Resurrected God! Guide us today by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover joy and peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 16:19-31
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

“Hallelujah! What a Savior!” — Philip Bliss, with additional lyrics and music by Austin Stone Worship; performed by Austin Stone Band (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)

Man of sorrows, what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim
Hallelujah! What a Savior

Stand unclean, no one else could
In my place condemned He stood
Now his nearness is my good
Hallelujah! What a Savior

Hallelujah, praise to the one
Whose blood has pardoned me
Oh what a Savior, Redeemer and King
Your love has rescued me

Lifted up was He to die
“It is finished!” was His cry
Now in Heaven lifted high
Hallelujah! What a Savior

When He comes, our Glorious King
All his ransomed home to bring
Then anew this song we’ll sing
Hallelujah! What a Savior
Hallelujah! What a Savior

Hallelujah, praise to the one
Whose blood has pardoned me
Oh what a Savior, Redeemer and King
Your love has rescued me

Yesterday, I posed a question to my class of fifteen students about that chasm between “Abraham’s Bosom,” as it used to be called, and the rich man. Where did it come from? Who put that chasm there between the rich man and Lazarus, far on the other side? What do you suppose really separates those two men now that they’re up in heaven? Nobody answered. They all looked confused.

I don’t blame them. I had never considered the question myself until yesterday. Where did that chasm come from? How did it get there? I had always assumed God, the maker of heaven and hell, had put it there. Maybe, however, that gap could be a product of our sin, which in this story would have been the rich man’s clear lack of compassion. In his book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis suggests that what really keeps folks “bound in hell” isn’t God’s will at all. It’s their own. They want to be there — or, at least, they’d rather be there than suffer the presence of God up in heaven.

While fascinating to think about, I’m not sure Lewis’ interpretation quite fits Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. For starters, Abraham explicitly says that nobody can cross that chasm even if they wanted to do so. But, the idea that we’re responsible in some important sense for our own separation from God does suggest that the chasm in Jesus’ parable might somehow be a product of the rich man’s own making. After all, Lazarus sat there at the fellow’s gate for ages, literally begging him to come near enough to help, but the rich man never did. Even before they both died, it seems a chasm had already been fixed between them — a chasm of indifference, neglect, and maybe even revulsion.

In his commentary on this passage, Christopher Pramuk points out that Jesus’ criticism of the comfortably indifferent and neglectful in this story is nothing new. Behind it lie those very prophets Abraham says the rich man should have listened to. “Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall,” pronounced the prophet Amos, for “they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.” To be sure, Pramuk says, here Jesus “stands squarely with the prophets of Israel who never tire of reminding us of God’s preferential concern for the poor. If there is a barrier separating us from the poor, it is there by our own design, say the prophets, by our willful refusal to see and to act on their behalf.”

The idea that God has a preferential concern or option for the poor strikes many of us as odd. Does God really prefer one kind of people over another? Wouldn’t that make God out to be biased? Doesn’t the Bible say that God loves everyone? All of these questions and concerns, while valid in their own right, seem to miss the point. Consider this: Would we really want to say that God is on the side of the rich man’s greed, gluttony, and neglect? Hardly. To say that God has a preferential option for the poor is to say that he will always stand up for the poor in their poverty and that, in doing so, he will always stand against the sin and indifference that creates and continues it. Who can disagree with that?

Maybe the difficulty we have with this “preferential concern” idea is that we don’t see folks’ poverty as a product, or at the very least, as a continuing symptom of other people’s greed or lack of compassion. We tend to think that folks are poor on account of their own faults and failures. We think they deserve to be poor, precisely because they don’t deserve to be rich. Maybe we don’t say that out loud, but we think it. Whatever the case, Jesus doesn’t seem to care at all about the poor’s supposed “faults and failures.” Lazarus was a beggar, after all, and when he dies, he finds himself in the comfort and presence of Abraham, no questions asked. No wonder Proverbs 17:5 warns us that “those who mock the poor insult their Maker.”

My students asked yesterday what we’re supposed to do then. If the chasm between us and the poor is of our own making, if it’s a product of our own indifference and neglect, then what are we to do? How do we mind that gap? Gustavo Gutierrez, for ages a pastor among the poor in Peru, said that we have to become poor ourselves. We have to identify with and work for those who are poor, for only in this way can the chasm we’ve created between the poor and ourselves be crossed. This means that our number one task in life is to work for justice. After all, isn’t that what Christ did on the cross?

Closing Prayer
Saving Lord! Show us where your Spirit is moving and where our hearts and attention should be in our neighbors and our world around us. Help us to cross the chasms created by our concerns for other, less important things. Amen.

     – Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988): 110-11.
     – Christopher Pramuk, “Minding the Gap,” Hope Sings So Beautiful, April 8, 2021,