25 September 2016

Luke 16:19

“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.’” (v. 25)

Psalm: Psalm 146 


Jesus' parable of the (unnamed) rich man and Lazarus is not intended to paint a literal picture of heaven and hell, but draws together several threads in the Gospel narrative relating to the topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom of God. It suggests that the material fortunes of this world will be reversed - and that this will come as a shock to many people. Wealth and the rigorous demands of discipleship constitute a key theme for Luke, as does the reversal of earthly fortunes in the kingdom of heaven (eg Luke 1:52-53; 6:21-22).

Dr Peggy McIntosh talks about the ' invisible knapsack' of privilege. There are many different kinds of privilege, and most of us wear at least one knapsack. She suggests that while we may be willing to acknowledge that one group of people (eg those living in poverty) is disadvantaged, we struggle to acknowledge our own advantages. In order to see the world clearly and redress imbalances (so that the world today better reflects the kingdom of heaven), we need to unpack our invisible knapsacks and acknowledge the invisible provisions, maps, passports, visas, clothes and tools that make some aspects of our lives much easier than they are for others. The danger, if the knapsack remains invisible, is that we will assume that we are entitled to such advantages.

The rich man in the parable seems not to have acted in a way that was deliberately malicious; instead, he simply failed to acknowledge his own privilege and to take the opportunity before him to redress the imbalance by lifting Lazarus (whose name, it seems, he knew) out of poverty. There are clear parallels to Matthew 25:31-46 - those who did not actively seek to serve those who were hungry, naked and in prison were surprised to find they had missed an opportunity to minister to Jesus, the Son of God.

To Ponder

  • What 'invisible knapsacks' do you wear? How does it feel to acknowledge those areas of life in which you are privileged?
  • It's easy, on reading this parable, to feel very guilty about missed opportunities to do good. What kind of response do you think Jesus was hoping for?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.