24 years ago I preached my first official sermon to a church congregation. I was in Mankato, MN on my internship and the pastor gave me the morning to preach. I preached this text, Luke 16, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Obviously this isn’t the Lazarus we all know from John 11, yet we know this character very well. Tradition has named this rich man Dives, and I think maybe we know his very well, too.
The sermon was called, “The Tale of Two Tables” since I was at that time a Dickens fan. The text refers to two tables, the banquet table of Dives from which Lazarus wishes he could eat, and the banquet table of the Lamb from which Dives cries for just a drop of water. The point of the sermon is that you have to choose one table or the other – you cannot eat at both.
It is interesting that the guilt of Dives is at best implied but at worst is absent from this story. Dives isn’t a scoundrel or a slaver or a misuser of wealth. He is simply a comfortably wealthy man. Lazarus isn’t a saint, doesn’t save any children from burning buildings, and isn’t notably righteous. He is simply poor, so poor that even the dogs lick his sores (biblically, it doesn’t get any poorer than that). The story seems to be that everyone gets a set amount of comfort, and if you have it in this life, you don’t in the next and vice versa. A bit disquieting as stories go.
Yet our Western minds, which have to find some guilt if there is punishment, latch on to Dives’ statement that Abraham, the voice of God in this story, should “warn” his brothers, implying his damnation is out of ignorance, not deviance. Yet Abraham states that if they won’t believe the prophets, which they didn’t, then even if someone came back from the dead they still wouldn’t believe him, a beautiful reference to Jesus Himself.
Which table do you want to eat at? What might that mean for how you live today?