Sermons & services

Sermon for Trinity I

Published Sunday 19th June 2022, at 7:40 p.m.

So here’s a thought about today’s famous Gospel reading: the parable of Dives and Lazarus. The question is this: why is the rich man in hell? Was it simply because he was rich? We know from the Gospel that, even though wealth is seductive and far from always being beneficial in the spiritual life, still, people aren’t condemned simply because they are rich. Far from it: people with wealth can do great things. We remember the wealth of Joseph of Arimathea, the disciple of Christ, in whose tomb the Saviour was buried (Matthew 27:57-60). You didn’t own your own tomb if you were poor. Likewise, the Pharisee, Nicodemus, one of the chiefs and leaders of the religious authorities in Jerusalem, was hardly a poor man. After all, it was he who brought a hundred litres of expensive aromatic oils to anoint the body of Jesus (John 19:39). We remember that the rich young man was not condemned by Christ for his wealth. In fact, the Gospels say he was both faithful and pious. Christ never said that the rich will not enter into the Kingdom of God, though he did point out that it would be easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. Rather Jesus’s warnings are to those people who make an idol of wealth, who trust in it rather than God. Who worship it. Their lives revolve around money. Money is not bad in and of itself: it is our attitude towards it that could be the problem. As St Paul tells St Timothy: it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. So back to our parable: why was the rich man in hell? The story doesn’t say he was evil, or cruel, or depraved, godless or impious. What we do learn is that the rich man was “clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day”. In other words, his life was one of self-indulgence. Now again: there is not a problem here with pleasure. We were put on this good Earth by the good God who created it in order to enjoy it. But again we have the problem that if we over indulge our desire for pleasure, it becomes the same kind of false god as wealth. But I would like to suggest another reason why the rich man finds himself being in torments. I would suggest that this has to do with the fact – not that the rich man is wealthy and likes the good life – but that he was not even aware of the presence of poor Lazarus. Lazarus was at his gate every day, and yet the rich man passed him by. In other words, the sin of the rich man was indifference. He didn’t even notice Lazarus, let alone his poverty and suffering. Indifference just doesn’t care: it doesn’t register the needs of others because it doesn’t notice others. I think that was the sin of the rich man. All the years Lazarus had been outside his gate and the rich man didn’t give a damn. Didn’t even register his existence. It’s been said that the opposite of love is hate. But according to the Holocaust survivor and writer, Elie Wiesel, the opposite of love is indifference. Indifference is really dangerous. Jesus himself warns of the danger in his words to the church in Laodicea in the Book of Revelation: “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). To the rich man, Lazarus did not matter. He had no value. He was meaningless. In effect, he did not exist. So indifference is the sin of seeing someone who is in need and doing nothing to help them out. It’s the sin of seeing someone who is being mistreated and not stepping in to stand up for them. Indifferent people don’t notice the suffering around them, they don’t come to the aid of people in need, they don’t get involved, and they don’t take a stand for what is right.
And people will justify their inaction with some pious-sounding phrases like, “It’s their business and nothing to do with me.” “Don’t get involved.” “Everyone should be free to live life as they want”. Think about Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. In that story, we recognize that the Samaritan is the hero of the story. He’s the one who helps out the guy on the side of the road who had been beaten and robbed.
But we also recognize that the priest and the Levite are the bad guys. But what did they do? They didn’t do anything. But that was the problem. They didn’t do anything! As St John says in today’s Epistle: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” And St James, in his letter, says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16).
There is no room here for indifference. To the beggar on the street. To the refugee or the migrant. To the one who is suffering. What we are called to have – like Jesus – is compassion: literally to suffer along with. As Jesus looked at the crowd – looks at you and me – and has compassion on us, so we are called upon to gaze with Christ-like eyes upon others and love them as he would love them. Tough call. Tough job. But then whoever said Christianity was easy!?