“A parable is usually an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. But most of the action in today’s reading takes place in the next world. It is a heavenly, or should I say hellish, story with an earthly meaning,” said the Rev. Thomas G. Long. He was preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His title was “The Open Window” and the Scripture reading was Luke 16:19-31.
Parables are difficult to define, Long said. They are a riddle to be solved.
“Just as we get into it, a trap door opens and we fall to a deeper level of mystery. We serve a teacher whose favorite way to teach is in riddles,” he said. “This bothered the disciples; they kept asking him why he talked in riddles.”
Author Calvin Trillin failed high school math and told his teacher his answers were meant ironically, Long said. Biblical scholar C.H. Dodd said a parable is a metaphor drawn from everyday life and has a meaning that is sufficiently in doubt to tease the imagination into thought.
In the Scripture reading, the rich man has everything he wants and needs and Lazarus, the homeless man who sits by his door, has nothing. Lazarus dies and goes to heaven while the rich man is in Hades. There is a chasm between the two and when the rich man asks Father Abraham to send Lazarus with water, Abraham tells him it is too late.
“What Jesus wants to get out, and it is a major motif in Luke, is that God is not neutral when it comes to the haves and have-nots,” Long said. “God stands on the side of the poor. There is more on economic justice in the Gospel of Luke than anywhere else. When Luke says the word rich, he snorts. The Magnificat, Mary’s response to the news that she will bear the Christ child, is not a gentle mother’s lullaby. It is a protest song. The mighty will be brought down and the rich will be sent sorrowfully away.”
There is a sad tale of a man who made the wrong choice, Long said.
“There are two things that keep me from stopping there. First, I have a chill of recognition,” Long said. “I don’t think of myself as a rich man, but if you pull back the camera and look in relation to the rest of the Earth, I am near the top of the pyramid. What Abraham says to the rich man, he says to me.”
Jesus and Luke do not stop there, he said. When Jesus finishes telling that parable, he is back on the road to Jerusalem and stops in Jericho and encounters Zacchaeus.
“Zacchaeus was the muscle for the Roman IRS and Jesus tells him he is coming to his house,” he said. “Zacchaeus jumps for joy because he wanted to see Jesus. This man was also in the bosom of Abraham.”
Is that a riddle about wealth and poverty? Yes, Long said, but it goes deeper. In the parable, Abraham is not an angry judge; he speaks to the rich man as a broken-hearted father who wants to help, but it is too late.
The ultimate theology of Christianity is that it is never too late; the prodigal is always welcome to come home.
“But this would be cheap grace if it were not for the penultimate theology that a window opens and we are invited to be a part of blessing the world and then the window closes and it is too late,” Long said.
Long said he deeply regretted missing his daughter’s Camp Fire Girls Father-Daughter Banquet to go give a speech.
“I know I made the wrong decision now and I would dearly love to go the Camp Fire Girls Father-Daughter Banquet, but it is too late,” he said. “My daughter would say, ‘I am not a little girl anymore; you missed it.’ ”
Jesus may have heard lots of sermons about the window God opens to invite us in and then the window closes. Long said those are called Eliezer of Damascus stories. God would occasionally ask Abraham to send Eliezer, incognito, as a blessing to the world, so people had to keep their eyes open.
“In Greek, Eliezer is translated as Lazarus. He had come in the form of a beggar on the porch of the rich man and he missed it,” Long said. “He was too rich, too self-sufficient, too numb to see God might be trying to break through his crust with a blessing. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it.”
The Rev. Robert Hagel presided. Bill Bates, longtime Chautauqua raconteur and lay reader and chalice bearer at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir sang “Sacred Heart (Ubi Caritas III)” by Ola Gjeilo under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. The Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy provided support for this week’s services.