do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace
or be still,
When alive, the rich man enjoyed being rich. He dressed well and ate well. He used his money to satisfy himself well beyond need although he might have shared some of it with that poor, sore-covered man who was right there by his front door.
We know that the rich man was aware of the poor guy--he even knew his name. I'm pausing here to wonder why I think that ignoring the needs of people whose names we know is different from ignoring those of strangers.
He not only knows the name of Lazarus; he wants to be waited on by him. "I need something. Send Lazarus to help me."
Abraham informs him that the situation is now reversed: the one who had good things now doesn't, and the one who had suffered in his lifetime is now comforted. Moreover, the time to change that is past. The rich man has lost the opportunity to use anything that he once controlled.
The rich man reacts by wanting to ensure that his relatives don't end up the way he has. He begs Abraham, "Send Lazarus to warn my brothers so they won't have to end up the way I have." Abraham reminds the rich man that those brothers have already received sufficient warning because they have access to the Bible. Abraham says that he doesn't think the Bible works for everyone, but that a visitation from someone who has died would.
I would be willing to interpret this remark as a reference to the resurrected Christ, but Abraham's next remark limits that willingness. He says, "If they don't believe the Old Testament, they won't believe the New one either."
Believing in Christ does not mean that we are to cut up and throw away the front part of our Bibles. And if we were to do that, we would miss a whole lot about the necessity of helping the poor. Just saying.
Jesus had been instructing the apostles, and, at times, the crowds, in discourse and with parables what life with him would be like and what is expected of those who follow in his way.
They may have needed to have their confidence bolstered. They asked to have their faith increased. Jesus replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could get a mulberry tree to jump in the ocean just by telling it to."
When I was in the 5th grade, somebody gave me a necklace with a mustard seed encased in a plastic ball. I used to look at that tiny seed and wonder why the trees around me weren't listening to me. And I lived in a place where the trees weren't very big.
Other Bible readers, like me, have been troubled by this passage. Is Jesus promising us that we will be able to perform superhuman actions or great magic tricks? Or, is Luke using hyperbole or even metaphoric talk?
Fred Craddock in Preaching through the Christian Year C points out that the "if" in Jesus' statement can be translated in two ways, The word "if" could be describing a condition contrary to fact. Or, "if" could be describing a condition according to fact.
Try substituting "since" for "if" to see how this would sound in English. Craddock says Jesus is giving them "an indirect affirmation of the faith they have and an invitation to live and act out in that faith. They ask for an increase in their faith. He says that the faith you already have is effective and powerful beyond your present realization."
Do we deserve any special praise for following Christ? for accomplishing what he has required of us? Or, as Christ's servants, aren't we when we think of ourselves as doing good as dramatic as getting a tree to jump in the lake, aren't we even then just doing our job, just doing what Christ's servants are to do?
At those times that we feel under attack and that God is not paying enough attention to us, we can pray this psalm. Remembering those times that God has gotten rid of enemies for other people, we can ask for God to get rid of those who are harming us. The psalm concludes with a reminder (to the psalmist or to God?) that the wrongdoers need to know God.
Prayer for Today: O Lord, remind us when we need it of our faith in you and remind us that we can and are supposed to use that faith. Amen.