Summary: It has become common practice to see as the whole meaning of this story that the rich should help the poor... But this particular story especially, if one allows oneself to be affected fully by its original meaning, is a very concrete proclamation of the
One cannot understand and preach the gospel concretely enough. A real evangelical sermon must be like holding a pretty red apple in front of a child or a glass of cool water in front of a thirsty person and then asking: do you want it? We should be able to talk about matters of our faith in such a way that the hands reach out for it faster than we can fill them.
People should run and not be able to rest when the gospel is talked about, as long ago the sick ran to Christ to be healed when he was going around healing (but Christ, too, healed more than he converted). That is really no stock phrase. Shouldn’t it really be that way wherever the good news of God is spoken of? But it just isn’t that way—we all know that.
At the same time, one shouldn’t content oneself with this state of affairs. Rather, there can be basically just one thing, namely, that one repeatedly asks oneself anew why this is so. And here is one—admittedly only one—of the reasons that we simply hesitate to accept that the gospel is as concrete, as close to life, as it is. We have spiritualized the gospel—that is, we have lightened it up, changed it. Take our gospel of the rich man and poor Lazarus. It has become common practice to see as the whole meaning of the story that the rich should help the poor. That is, it is turned into a story illustrating a moral. But this particular story especially, if one allows oneself to be affected fully by its original meaning, is something very different from that, namely, a very concrete proclamation of the good news itself. Admittedly so concretely, so powerfully worded, that we don’t even take it seriously anymore.
Let us imagine how a crowd of the sick, the poor, the miserable, of poor Lazaruses, gathered around Christ, and then he began to tell the story of the poor, leprous Lazarus whom even the dogs were torturing, at the doorstep of the rich man. And when the story then took a turn with the words: “The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. Lazarus received evil things in his life, but now he is comforted here,” perhaps shouts of joy and hope passed through the crowd. That was the good news; that was the cool water they reached for greedily. That was the love of God itself, which spoke in this way to the poor and suffering. You outcasts, you disadvantaged, you poor and sick, you who are looked down upon shall be consoled. You have much suffering in the world, but in a short while eternal joy and eternal consolation shall come over you. Look at poor Lazarus, at how he is lying scorned before the rich man’s doorstep, and then look at how he receives God’s consolation with Abraham. Blessed are you, you poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry here below, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep here, for you will laugh. Rejoice and leap for joy, for your reward is great in heaven.
Those are the beatitudes in Luke [6:20–23]. Nothing is said here about the poor in spirit [Matt. 5:3], nothing about hunger for righteousness [Matt. 5:6], but blessed are you poor, you hungry, you who are weeping, as we know you in the world. Blessed are you Lazaruses of all the ages, for you shall be consoled in the bosom of Abraham. Blessed are you outcasts and outlaws, you victims of society, you men and women without work, you broken down and ruined, you lonely and abandoned, rape victims and those who suffer injustice, you who suffer in body and soul; blessed are you, for God’s joy will come over you and be over your head forever.
That is the gospel, the good news of the dawning of the new world, the new order, which is God’s world and God’s order. The deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk, and the gospel is preached to the poor [see Luke 7:22]. And before we interrupt ourselves to ask questions here, let us hear the other, the terrible other side. There is the rich man, who dressed in purple and fine linen. About him it says: “The rich man also died and was buried.”
That already sounds very harsh. And now in hell he must suffer the torment of eternal thirst, because he was full and satisfied on earth. He has to see poor Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham and beg that Lazarus quench his thirst only for a moment. But even that can’t be. “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things.” And behind this we hear the words: Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you who dress in purple and live happily in luxury, for you shall suffer eternal thirst [see Luke 6:24–26].