Have you ever experienced the 20-20 vision of hindsight? I can remember so many times when I’ve looked back on a confusing situation and had a much clearer picture in light of all the things I discovered along the way. What if we could get the clearer picture beforehand – not having to wait until the event is history before knowing the best response? Wouldn’t that be cool?
In our text this Sunday, Jesus will invite us to gain a better picture for our present day lives by reminding us that things are not always as they appear on the surface. We’ll be reading Luke 16:19-31 as we continue our study in the Gospel of Luke.
I’m someone who reads this section as a parable – the reasons for which I’ll delve into on Sunday. As a parable, I believe it sets up a perfect punctuation for everything that’s been said in the whole section which began in chapter 15:1-2. It also helps illustrate what Jesus said a few verses back about how the world honors one thing but God finds it detestable.
In the parable, the curtain gets pulled back to see that statement acted out with all the drama and theatrics of a stage play.
As you read the story, imagine the details and contrasts set up in the first act (v19-21). Who would you rather be in that description?
Act two (v22-23) brings the great equalizer on stage: death. Here we recognize that everything wasn’t as it appeared in life. Who is blessed and who is cursed in this scenario? The interesting thing is, nothing changes about their status or activity during life – which means this state of blessing and curse was present in life, just unseen. (spoiler alert!) That’s a major point of the parable! How does this relate to the Pharisee’s critique of Jesus hanging out with sinners and outcasts?
Acts three and four finish up the section. The unnamed rich man pleads with Abraham for relief and pleads for his five brothers who needed to be warned. Abraham refuses both requests – for relief because there was an irreconcilable gap between them; for warning because they had God’s word that could instruct them, if they won’t hear that they won’t believe someone risen from the dead.
There’s all sorts of nuance here which we, knowing there’s an empty tomb at the end of this gospel, are able to recognize more clearly.
Again, I’m not someone who reads this story as a teaching about the afterlife, but as an exhortation addressing how we live right now. Some questions we could consider from this parable are: Who’s evaluation of us matters most? How should we evaluate God’s word, what impact should it have on our lives? And finally, how should we assess and treat each other in light of Heaven’s tendency to reverse things that seem so obvious to us on earth?
I hope you can join us this Sunday – it should prove to be a challenging yet encouraging exploration of this passage!