Have you ever noticed… how many things take place in the Gospels around a table? With Thanksgiving coming in a few days, most of us will be focusing our attention on a table as we gather with those we love and celebrate the “blessings” in our lives. This blog entry is a retelling of a famous parable that contains a common theme in the Gospel of Luke – the table. I’ll let you figure out which parable as you read. My goal here is to recreate the original shock that Jesus’ audience would have experienced when he told this parable. And then to show what it may mean to us today. This parable is crucial to our understanding of both the present and future Kingdom of God. Jesus seems to show that both center around…a table. The following story is written from the perspectives of two men and two tables…
Table # 1
“This is my table. I am so blessed to recline here. The food is amazing and plentiful and I have all I could ever need, not to mention the fellowship of those chosen ones who share my likeness. Ahhh… the benefits of being a son of Abraham and a son of Father God who is so good to bless me this way. I have lived my life in obedience to Him. He is so kind to take care of me and to reward me. Oh Lord God of Israel I take my place at the covenant meal! A purple robe and the finest of linen He has provided to show where I belong and to Whom I belong to. It’s not that I’m proud…but don’t I have reason to boast in Him? It is an honor to wear my allegiance for all to see. I love to proclaim where my loyalty lies and to proclaim the results of living for the Father. To and from the Temple courts I greet my brothers who, as fellow sons of Abraham, share in the blessings of the Father. Proudly I enter the Sanctuary to worship the One who has provided both now and forevermore. Forever and ever I will fellowship with the righteous and recline with the rich, those chosen to share in the inheritance. Oh to be a part of the community of the redeemed and to be on the side of the Redeemer.
If only the one who begs understood. For even now he sits outside the gate and cries out for my help in the name of Father Abraham. A little relief is all he asks. But doesn’t he understand? I know the misery of that poor soul must be ever so intense but there is a fundamental distance between us that cannot be traveled, a divide that cannot be traversed. The die has been cast, the distance has been fixed. It’s not that I do not wish to help but, how can I when it is not really my place? God has made His assignments and who am I to change what He has established? The “set apart” he has blessed and invited to the table. My table is before me and I have been chosen and called to share in the feast of the elite. But will I see him every day – he who cries out for my help? Couldn’t his family have taken care of him? Were his brothers so ignorant too? It’s not that he has asked me for very much but that he has failed to understand his place in this life and his destined future.
But one thing is for sure. I know my place and I know my future. The Father has called me by name and invited me here to the table. I am Lazarus, the comforted one, the blessed one, the helped one, the child of the King. I have traded rags for riches, crumbs for the eternal presence of the Creator, begging for Banquets, uncleanliness for unashamedness, sores for salvation…and I’ve traded my tears for …Table. Yes, this is my table and I will dine with my Provider and my family here forever. It is the Feast of the Forgiven with the One who forgives. The haves and the have-nots of the world gathered here in harmony for here we are all truly rich. Those who once longed for a share of the crumbs from the tables of the rich and those who once shared the wealth of the table with the poor now commune at the Heavenly Table in the Eternal Banquet. Yes, I am so blessed to be seated in the heavenlies!”
Table # 2
“I was so blessed to recline there. A roof over my head, a servant at my side, and the favor of the Almighty. The banquet was the finest and the food plentiful and I had all I could have ever needed at the table. Am I not a chosen seed of Abraham and a son of Father God who selected me and blessed me? I lived my life in obedience to Him and I prospered. It was my reward, my place, my heritage, my destiny. Hadn’t he provided from birth the wealth of the world to those who belonged to Him? My purple robe and fine linens showed everyone my status in the Kingdom and who I belonged too. My splendid home on the hill proclaimed the favor of the righteous. And my gates…they protected me from an unclean and defiled world. Yes, Lord, I have kept myself pure before You. I was so proud to be a part of the family of the righteous, the clean, the unadulterated – and I wore my allegiance with honor for all to see the benefits of the chosen ones. Oh how I knew and kept the law. I studied the commands day after day after day, keeping every letter of the law, proclaiming it boldly from the Temple courts. Couldn’t everyone see that I lived my life for the Lord my God? Didn’t my blessings prove His preference and confirm my standing? Every day I went to and from the Temple courts fixing my eyes on the path before me, guarding my gaze from unclean things and joining my fellow brothers in the worship of the Almighty. We were sons of our wealthy father Abraham and didn’t we share in his favor and in his riches?
Even the punished ones who sat at my gate knew who I was in the Kingdom and longed to walk in my shoes and to share in the abundance of the God who provides for the righteous and blessed. Yes, I gave thanks to Almighty God, the Giver of all, the One who provides both now and forevermore, the One… who is my help. Eleazar! God is my help? Lazarus! God is his help? But I lived inside the gate and communed with the righteous. I reclined with the rich and took my place with the chosen ones! I kept myself pure and my ways upright. I lived according to the Law. I walked among the righteous. I gave my alms. I shared my crumbs. I, I, …I claimed my seat of honor and my table overflowed and was always full. Oh…Father Abraham…my table was always… full. There were no vacant seats – I had given them to the “blessed” ones, the “chosen” ones, to my five brothers…my…brothers!”
Two men, two tables. With which will you dine?
Conclusion: Making “Seven”
There is no clear evidence of the “numerology” in this parable but I’d like to suggest there is more than meets the eye. I believe it has to do with a number Jesus uses in this parable. I think Kenneth Bailey’s chapter on this parable in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes would agree.
The number six represents evil in the world. Why does Jesus specifically choose “five” as the number of brothers the rich man has in this parable? Perhaps it is to show that the 5 brothers + the rich man = 6. They embody evil. What was their crime? Jesus does not tell us of specific laws they have broken but he tells this parable in a way for the listener or reader to discover the “crime” that lands the rich man even in hell. So what’s the crime Jesus is suggesting here? The crime of inequality. The crime of injustice. The crime of ignoring poverty.
Did you know that if you make more than $25,000/year you are among the top 10% of the world’s most wealthy? If you make more than $50,000/year then you move into the top 1%. The only reason Jesus suggests in the parable that the rich man is guilty is…he failed to care for poor Lazarus. He failed to invite him to the table.
What if…just what if…on one of those days…the rich man had stopped as he entered his gate? What if he’d allowed his eyes to meet the eyes of poor, forsaken Lazarus? Maybe, just maybe, he would have felt a twinge of compassion and invited him to his table.
Salvation is not just “going to heaven when we die” it is about bringing a piece of heaven to earth while we live. I believe Jesus is suggesting here that the implications of such an invitation are truly life-saving. But not just for Lazarus. Yes, the rich man could have helped “save” Lazarus from hunger and from shame on any one of those days. But he could have also “saved” himself from…himself. He cared for his five brothers and himself. What if he’d cared for Lazarus? You do the math. 5 brothers + 1 rich man + 1 poor Lazarus. Seven. The number associated with God. Maybe our mission in life isn’t just serving others for their sake but also for our own. What could have happened around that table of seven? Attitudes could have been revealed. Selfishness could have been exposed. Eyes could have been opened. And the Kingdom of God could have been experienced both then and perhaps forevermore.
Who is your “Lazarus?”
Identify the “sixes” in your life that keep you from seeing the Kingdom. Now pull up an extra chair. And turn them into “sevens.” Invite Lazarus to the table. Experience the Kingdom of God. It may “save” both him…and you.