Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Lazarus Parable

Most Christians are familiar with the Lazarus parable.  It's one of the 'proofs' for an eternal hell.  For those who are unfamiliar, it's a story Jesus told about a rich man and a poor man that die...the rich man goes to hell, the poor man to heaven.  The fact it's a parable doesn't seem to stop most people from saying it's proof that hell lasts forever, simply because Jesus states there is a "great gulf" between them.  For a very in depth explanation of the parable go to  (I can't say I completely agree or even understand the whole thing--but it's quite expansive and will make you think)

When I first came to believe that hell is not eternal, I heard a sermon at church about this parable.  My pastor explained how Jesus spoke this parable to the religious leaders of his day, because they were complaining about Jesus hanging around sinners all the time.  He explained how the Gentiles (who Lazarus most likely represented in this story) were looked down on by the Jews as "unclean dogs".  After that sermon I wrote a sermon of my own, because everything about how I saw this parable changed drastically from how I saw it as a child.  So here it is...(written four years ago, just for myself) I find it ironic that I wrote this before I knew my daughter was gay.

(Begin with parable...I don't want to cut and paste the whole thing, you'll have to look it up if you don't know it.  It's found in the 16th chapter of Luke)

What are the main points most Christian's learned from this story when growing up.  I know what I learned:
1) Once your in hell, you'll never get out.
2) Hell is hot, therefore torture.  It's purpose is only to inflict pain for all eternity.
3) The people in heaven look down on the people in hell with disdain, because they were too stupid or evil to understand what they were choosing when they were alive.  If they didn't get the message of the gospel, it's their own fault and we shouldn't feel bad for them.
All this equals=NON COMPASSION

But the points Jesus are making seem to be:
1)You can't count on your religion to save you from hell.  Love for God should equal love for people.
2) We are going to be accountable if we do not show mercy to the suffering.
3) God wants to comfort those who are mistreated and looked down on in this lifetime.
All this equals=COMPASSION

Why was the message we got growing up so far removed from what Jesus was actually teaching? Maybe it's because:
1)  Just like the Pharisees, we want a "formula" that gets us favor with God and a ticket to heaven.  For us, it's "accept Jesus".  But if "accepting Jesus" does not equal loving God and loving others, then it really isn't anything else but a free ticket to heaven.  Was a free ticket really the point of the cross?
2) Just like the Pharisees, once we know we have the ticket and others don't (they were 'offered' one and rejected why feel bad?) we have license to look down on them.
3) Just like the Pharisees, we do not feel we are required to show compassion on those God will ultimately reject. 

What if Jesus came today?  How would he update this parable?...

"There was a wealthy Christian preacher who had great influence in his community.  He loved to preach on how displeased God is with the people of this world, and how different and set a part Christians need to be by not watching R rated movies or smoking or drinking, like the unbelievers do. Next to the church was a really run down trailer park where a gay man lived who was dying of AIDS. This was a very religious town (thanks to the preacher) so the gay man was a complete outcast and had no friends. He wanted to go to church, but he knew he would not be accepted there. When it was discovered he was so sick he could not even go out to get food, the preacher decided to do a sermon... 'The world, with all it's high talking, gay loving liberals would want us to hurry to this man's side to help him. But we cannot! This is just one step closer to the church accepting that homosexuality is OK! If God has given him AIDS, then that is the punishment he deserves.' So, the gay man died a very painful and lonely death. The preacher was so proud of nurturing such a pious community, and he was sure God was pleased with him...but when he died, not only did he find the gay man being comforted by God, he found he had to go to hell to be punished for his self righteousness and lack of compassion."

What if a man came today and said he was from God and preached this message? How many people would say he was from the devil? (which is what the Pharisees said about Jesus) If he started a church where gays were accepted as they are, how many Christians would look on it with contempt? If he kept saying that Christians were bad and needed God's discipline, how many would think he deserved to die? It's easy for us to judge the Pharisees, but let's think about their situation. They were already told how to get to heaven. Obey the Torah. This came from their Holy scriptures...there was no new testament. Jesus was teaching things that contradicted everything they had been taught since childhood. And he was saying they were in danger of hell--God's own chosen! What if the Holy Spirit wants to tell us--the church--that we have become Pharisees? Are we in danger of hell? Do you think there is any chance the information we got growing up:

1) once your in hell, you cannot get out
2) hell's only purpose is torture
3) we will not have compassion for those in hell...
                                                                           Is wrong?