Jesus and Lazarus.
What enters your mind when you hear these two names together?
How about the story often told nearer to the celebration of Easter about the man Jesus raised from the dead? The story found in John’s 11th chapter where Jesus shows up late by design, only to prove his power to restore life in one already dead. Happened in the village of Bethany just a few miles outside Jerusalem. Most of us are well acquainted with Lazarus and have images formed in minds from well back in our own history as Christians. Jesus and Lazarus.
Makes a great story for Lent in preparation for Easter.
Yet, Jesus told of another Lazarus. One we don’t hear as much about. This Lazarus appears in Luke’s 16th chapter. And there Jesus references this Lazarus as being a beggar with sores upon his body and hunger within his stomach. This Lazarus also died, according to the parable Jesus tells, but in this case he is resurrected into heaven to be with Father Abraham.
What makes this Lazarus story unique is not just that he died and went to live with Abraham. Jesus's story renders also this poor beggar the hero and a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day becomes the anti-hero. Indeed the rich man (v.22-25) also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
Lest this parable be wrongly taken to mean that Jesus was assigning the rich man to some place of eternal torment such as in that conservative Christian concept of Hell, the word Jesus uses (hades in Greek) means essentially the cemetery or place of the dead. The meaning, instead, has to do with social justice in God's Kingdom economy. There, counter to our own kingdoms on earth, the rich get poorer and the poor get richer.
Which brings me to the subject of Advent in preparation for Christmas.
Christmas is not really about the paradox of death becoming life. That’s what Easter is about.
The Christmas story is about the paradox of poverty becoming wealth.
Of the two biblical stories, consider Matthew's riches to rags story where characters such as Jerusalem’s King Herod the Great, who “dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day,” would soon die. After which Mary and Joseph and their toddler Jesus could return from exile in Egypt to their home in Nazareth. Read on and we find Matthew's rags to riches story where that poor exiled infant ends up bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
If Lazarus fits into our Easter story as the Christ who dies only to live again, surely “the other Lazarus” fits into our Christmas story as the Christ who is born in poverty only to become King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The dead are made alive, but only after the low are first made high in God’s Kingdom. Lent’s paradox of life after death follows Advent’s paradox of wealth after poverty.
So where am I going with this one today in Advent’s anticipation of Christmas? Simply this.
There is another Lazarus we need to hear about in connection with Jesus. The outcast Lazarus of poverty and disease who, after facing our own year of pandemic and political turmoil, would easily have resonated with these words from Mary's own Magnificat:
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Christmas is when God raises up the poor. As we now prepare in this Advent season, let’s remember “the other Lazarus.” Jesus identifies with him, too, and with us not only in death......but first in poverty.