In my mind, it’s easy to disassociate the last line of Sunday’s gospel lesson (Luke 16:19-31) from the rest of the reading. As the parable of Lazarus and the rich man comes to a close, I hear Abraham say to the tormented man, “If [your brothers] do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead,” and I think to myself, “Yes, people can be so stubborn that not even the resurrection can sway their hearts!” And then I realize he’s talking about me. Uh oh.
The man is suffering in Hades. He’s in agony. The flames are burning his body, and he sees no hope for redemption. “Please, Father Abraham, send Lazarus back from heaven to warn my brothers to amend their lives so that they don’t end up here with me!” But the amendment of life that the rich man is talking about—the change that he wishes he had made while he was still alive—isn’t believing in Jesus so that one can go to heaven. The message he wants to get through to his family is the importance of taking care of the poor so that one doesn’t go to hell. The tie-in to the resurrection isn’t that the empty tomb becomes the content of faith but that the empty tomb would be proof that God’s word throughout the ages—take care of the poor—should be taken seriously.
This parable isn’t an exhortation to believe in the empty tomb. It’s a reminder to me that being a Christian—believing in the empty tomb—is about more than merely celebrating a resurrection. It’s about letting that resurrection take hold in my life so that I become an instrument of God’s life-giving power. And what does that look like? It looks like the Lazaruses in my life being taken care of.
Don’t ameliorate the power of this parable by dissolving the link between resurrection and social justice. Jesus is taunting us. He’s spurring us on. “If you’re going to believe in the resurrection,” he says, “don’t forget to believe in its power!” We hold the resurrection as the center of our faith and our very raison d’être. But I think we have a tendency to stop there. Being a Christian isn’t as simple or empty as confessing one’s belief in the empty tomb so that one might go to heaven. There’s more to it than that. It starts with Easter, but then it spreads.