Preached by Camryn Smith
In the gospel today, the basic idea is that a poor man, who receives no rewards or “good things” here on Earth, is sent to heaven in order to receive those “good things.” At the same time, a rich man who has received every possible opportunity in life is sent to Hell. This reading was one of Jesus’ many parables of which we can only guess the meaning. What is Jesus’ purpose for telling this story: To scare us? To warn us? To encourage the poor? Thanks to Wikipedia, I was able to find a quote from Martin Luther that, I think, helps explain the meaning of this parable. He says:
“It seems to me, this Hell is the conscience, which is without faith and without the Word of God, in which the soul is buried and held until the Day of Judgment, when they are cast down body and soul into the true and real Hell.”
To me, Luther is saying that if we do not live our life through God and help others who are in need, we will be tormented by a Hell of guilt and remorse. When we see and walk by people who need help, Martin Luther is challenging us to be that person who will, without hesitation, lend that person our hand. It’s very easy to sit here now and think that, if put in this kind of situation, we would do the right thing. We would stop what we are doing in order to help a person in need, but I’m sure every person in this room can think of at least one time in their life where, when looking back, they do not like or feel proud of their actions. In these circumstances, we are the rich man, while the person in trouble is Lazarus, the poor man. Was there a time when someone walking beside you dropped their papers or things and you did not stop to help pick them up? How about have you ever been in such a rush that when you saw a person on the side of the road with car troubles, you did not stop to make sure they didn’t need help? Or have you seen someone who looks lost, you feel bad for them, but you don’t ask if they need your help? I know I have. I’m not proud of it, but I have. For example, I’ve seen kids being picked on at school, but I didn’t stand up for them. Why is this? I knew perfectly well that I should have helped those people, but I didn’t take any kind of action. We are all human; we make mistakes. However the important part of making these mistakes is that the next time we are in that situation, we can do something different than before.
This semester in school, I am taking a psychology class which studies the human mind, who we are, our personalities, and why we do the things we do. Luckily, one of the theories I just learned this past week can be applied to this Sunday’s reading. We learned about a certain type of conformity, obedience. Our definition of obedience is “an extreme form of conformity, often involving going against one’s better judgment or truest intentions.” Why do we, as a whole, obey, or go along with what everyone else is doing? One answer is that when we are emotionally distanced from the victim, usually meaning we don’t have a relationship with them, we do not go out of our way for them. If the person on the side of the road was a friend or family member, we would surely stop to help them. We wouldn’t even mind being late if it meant stopping for a person we know; almost like we’re obligated to stop because we would feel guilty later if we didn’t. With a person we have no relationship with, we wouldn’t even think later about how we didn’t stop. Another explanation for why we don’t help the Lazarus’ in our lives is because we look around to see what everyone else around us is doing, and we want to make sure that what we are currently doing is acceptable. Should I or shouldn’t I stop? If everyone else isn’t stopping for that car, why should I? It’s okay that I didn’t stop because everyone else didn’t either. I think we can all agree that this is a very undesired thought process, but we have to admit that those thoughts and forces do affect our actions. Now, one last thing I want you all to think about is our own self-serving biases. You must be wondering what that means. This is our own tendency to rationalize our own mistakes which usually helps us to feel better about our actions. For example, I was already running late, so I didn’t have time to help the person with car troubles, or I didn’t include that person because it would have made everyone feel awkward or uneasy. Self-serving biases are easy to use, but are really just excuses for our own sake.
I’m not saying that we are all terrible people for not helping the Lazarus’ in our lives, really I’m not! Like I said, we are humans and were made to make mistakes. It’s how we learn from the mistake that matters. I believe Jesus was challenging his students and us to take that extra step, that chance, to reach out and help someone. As Christians we are called upon to tell people about Jesus through our actions. We are the ones who should set an example to others, so I am going to challenge you. I challenge you to go out this week and recognize those times where you can make a difference in another person’s life. Just once, help a person pick up their dropped papers. Just once, stand up for a person being bullied, and show the community what it means to follow Jesus!