Luke 16:19-31

Nick Welford reflects on the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

Nick Welford
Nick Welford

For four years I worked as a PCSO, (Community Support Officer), for North Yorkshire Police. I went in a little wet behind the ears, having never really worked outside the church before then. I remember being naively optimistic about how I would treat the homeless and addicted and was shocked by some of my long serving colleagues attitudes towards them.

My shock lasted for about three months, by which point I had had enough fruitless encounters to start to see those people in a very different light. I forget that with one or two different life choices, it could be me sleeping on the street and yet in my mind, the gap between us was much wider than that.

Presently I am studying to be a Baptist minister. I am being forced to think about things more deeply than ever before. I am having ideas about church, worship and leadership that may not be held by many in the wider church. The temptation with this is for a superior attitude to creep into my thinking, believing that I am right and wishing that everyone else would catch on. That is, until I had to preach on Luke 16.

To be honest it is a passage I would normally skip over. A brief reading makes it seem fairly clear - don't go to hell because if you do it's too late. But due to preaching on it, I had to look at it a little more closely. Of the many things I learned, the one that is staying in my mind is the chasm between the rich man and Lazarus.

Lazarus and the rich man have both died and in a dramatic reversal of their earthly lives, the rich man is now in need and Lazarus in comfort. Abraham comments that a chasm has been put there and cannot be crossed, but we are never told who put the chasm there.

In a rather simplistic view of heaven and hell, I had always assumed that God was the chasm creator, but I've realised that this chasm was already present in the rich man's life and he was its creator.

Lazarus sat at the rich man's gate, close enough to smell the enticing food. The rich man knew his name, yet because of his status and class, the rich man chose to create a chasm rather than build a bridge.

There are people in the world who we prefer to be on the other side of a chasm; people who we don't like, or we see as beneath us. These people are at work, on the streets and in our churches. People who have different theology.

It seems that our inclination these days is to dig chasms rather than build bridges. We are encouraged to pamper and esteem ourselves and we wonder why we feel so lonely. Is it because we have dug so many chasms that we are now king of our own metaphorical island? Because if we have, then one day these chasms may become permanent and who will we blame then? CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.