Over the summer, Matt released a book called The First Time We Saw Him, where he imagined what Jesus’ parables would sound like if Jesus had come today, rather than to first century Palestine. Some friends and I are working on some sermons on the parables, and we’re using Matt’s book as a guide. One of the parables we’re using is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31, and Matt didn’t include it. So Adam took his inspiration from the book and imagined his own version of “The Rich Man and Lazarus”. Enjoy!
‘We are blessed’ he says to his wife, as she slides the last bit of caviar onto her palette, savoring its salty boldness, while he looks out over the green towards a white suited server gracefully approaching with a tray of Dom Perignon. The gala is a favorite event, which in Richard’s own words, ‘couldn’t be going for a better cause’, as it raises $50,000 every year for the Historical Society of the Hamptons.
‘I can’t wait to try the cooking class again this year’, replies Victoria, ‘you will come with me this time, won’t you? I’ve heard they’re doing a section on French hors d’oeuvres. I’ve always wanted to learn a flambé.’
‘They teach flambe’ techniques at the Historical Society?’
‘Well, we’re expanding our horizons. You can only churn butter so many times.’
‘I’m sure it’ll be great. Well worth our dinner tonight, which it looks like they are about to start serving. Lets head over to the clubhouse.’
‘Oh, good, I’m starving. Let me go get Kristina and James. They are sitting with us.’
‘Don’t forget your gloves’, he says, handing her the cashmere lambskin-lined pair she had just won at the silent auction with his hard-earned money. He was more irritated that he had to hold them for her, than the fact that she bid $250 for them. Its for a good cause, he reminded himself, as was his pair of $850 per plate tickets.
As she pranced across the green, he watched the heel of her Stuart Weitzman’s dig into the bentgrass turf, leaving the tiniest impression, and reminding him of his tee time the next day. She’d sleep off her champagne, and he’d get up early and maybe get two rounds in, a nice break from his high-powered routine of political lobbying, which made this evening’s event far more valuable for him than it was for the Historical Society.
‘Oh’, she turned back towards him, the heel twisting a chunk of the putting surface loose, and leaving him feeling for his ball mark repair tool on his keychain, ‘and they are coming to church with us Sunday, too. Their minister is too longwinded, they said, and they just can’t take it anymore. I told them they would love Maple Bend.’
Great, he thought. He didn’t mind church so much. He’d practically built the place. And it hadn’t hurt his career, either. Most every politician went to church, keeping up appearances, playing the game. Richard wasn’t just playing the game though, he was sincere about his religious beliefs. He always considered himself an upstanding citizen. He didn’t cheat on his taxes or his wife, though he’d had plenty of opportunities for both. His three boys were proving to be fine young gentleman, doing well in school, athletic, scholarships to Ivy League schools well on their way. It wasn’t church he had a problem with, its just that Kristina and James McDonald were not his favorite people. He didn’t mind a gala dinner with them, but he wasn’t interested in their joining more of his circles. They were a little too ‘socially involved’. Sure they came to galas like this, but they also went places where ‘the need was real’, as they said. And they kept hinting at his getting involved, too. He was not interested. He was beginning to be concerned that his wife was a bit too intrigued by them, and might join their cause for the needy. He’d been on the needy side before, and vowed that he would never be there again. After one bankruptcy nearly ruined him, he committed to work even longer and harder and as a result he’d built for himself a substantial career in lobbying. He knew the right people, how to work them, and had become convinced that from now on his only direction was going to be up. He’d passed far too many people along the way whose ‘need was real’. What they really needed was to get some work ethic, he thought.
‘Great. I’m sure they will’, he said through his teeth.
‘Dinner was exquisite, wasn’t it?’ his wife said picking filet out of her teeth as they climbed into the rear seat of the Bentley. ‘And I simply adore harp music while I eat’. I think it actually makes the food taste even better’.
‘I think you’ve had too much champagne, honey. But the food was great.’
Their driver pulled the Bentley gently through the guarded gate of the Southampton Country Club, and out onto Shinnecock Drive, the four lane that would lead them through town to their own gated beachfront community. Richard often thought these gates were the barriers between true civilization and the rest of the world. While on the inside he was safe, secure, and himself. But outside the gate, the change was abrupt. How the homeless managed to find their way into this community, he had no idea, but they sure knew which car windows they preferred to wash. It drove him crazy.
Leaving the country club they came to the red light before they noticed the commotion. A crowd of people were knelt down in the middle of their lane, blocking traffic, where a lone pair of ratty boots, toes pointed skyward could be seen between the people. Richard noticed the cardboard sign resting in the crosswalk next to the boots. WIL WRK 4 FOOD, it said. I doubt it, he thought.
‘Victoria, get back in the car!’ he shouted, lamenting she’d ever met the McDonalds. All of a sudden she wanted to help. Like she’d know the first thing to do for a homeless man keeled over in the street. As Richard raced out of the car to grab her before the onslaught of traffic started moving again at the green light, he noticed an officer on the scene.
‘Just stay here!’, Richard said to his wife, irritated that he was now standing outside of his Bentley on the busy street and not home resting for his tee time tomorrow.
‘Officer, can we get through?’
‘Yeah, I’ll move you around shortly. An ambulance is on its way, but it won’t matter. This guy is gone.’
‘Not sure, but looks like he got run over by that Hummer. Dives didn’t even see him comin.’
‘Thats what his panhandler buddies called him. Hardest working guy on the street. He’d do anything for a buck. Said if loose change hit the cement, he’d be the only one that dives for it. Name fits, I’d say. Probably what did him in too.’
‘Hm. Too bad’, Richard said, and compulsively took a quick enough glance to catch sight of the bright yellow shirt hanging loosely from the dead body. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he recognized him. It was the same shirt he saw every weekend when he pulled out of the plush country club, turning down the window wash. Men like that always irritated him, the constant bother of people hitting him up for cash. He just wanted to get out of one gated community and get home to another.
Which is exactly what he was thinking when he stepped around the corner of his Bentley, when he heard his wife’s voice for the final time, a blood-curdling scream, when his body was pummeled by the Mercedes speeding down Shinnecock, when everything went black.
It didn’t stay black for long. In fact, in a moment everything went from black to blinding white. He instinctively covered his eyes with his forearm, but it didn’t stop the piercing headache he felt. As his eyes adjusted to the glare, he could finally make out some of his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was the gate. It looked just like the one at the Southhampton Country Club, except it was bigger and brighter. Maybe I’m in Texas he thought, and chuckled to himself. But as soon as he laughed, he regretted it, when his chuckle turned to a wheezing cough, and he suddenly felt like his lungs had been shrunk to the size of a sandwich bag. It was like breathing through a coffee stirrer. At first he gasped for air, hoping that he’d be relieved, but it only made it worse. He frantically looked around for some help but there was none to be found. He moved briskly towards the giant gate and opened his mouth to call out, but no voice came. He turned in despair, and his back hit the wrought iron bars of the gate, his hands grabbing his throat, trying to massage breath into his lungs, as his body slowly slid to the ground, his chest heaving with pain, and still barely a wisp of air coming to him.
He had always been so healthy, never smoked, except a celebratory cigar from time to time on the golf course, never any sickness that he or his doctor couldn’t manage with prescriptions, all well within his control of course, but this pain was inescapable. He could only manage the smallest of breaths and each one brought a tightness to his chest that made him feel like a circus performer lying beneath the crushing foot of an elephant that wasn’t acting. A golfing buddy of his was asthmatic, but he couldn’t imagine that difficulty being anything close to what he was experiencing now. A puff from an inhaler couldn’t fix this. If he wasn’t dead already, certainly he would be soon.
Suddenly he heard footsteps, turned to look through the gate, and knew immediately that the impact from the Mercedes had indeed been fatal, for when he turned he found himself face to face with a man who looked like no one he’d ever seen, but for some reason gave him the unmistakable impression of being a man he’d seen every weekend for decades, and whose name he had only recently come to know.
It was Dives.
Dives didn’t say a word, but just stared, peacefully, almost mercifully at Richard, who continued to labor for breath. He was dressed to the hilt, in a full, double-breasted, cloud-white suit, and he looked good in it. Next to him, was another man, dressed casually, but looking just as nice, albeit slightly more comfortable in a pair of khaki’s, a plain white v-neck t-shirt, and black and white oxfords, that looked identical to the golf shoes Richard had been planning to wear the following morning, were he still alive.
‘Hi Richard. I’m Peter’, said the man in the v-neck.
‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Richard whispered to himself.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Isn’t this a little cliche? I’ve died, gone to heaven, and at the pearly gates a man named Peter is dressed like he’s about to go golfing?’
‘Its what you know.’ Peter said.
‘So its different for everybody? Does Dives like to golf too?’
‘He does now, don’t ya Dives?’
‘Yessir’, Dives said, with a quiet air of propriety.
‘So if this is Heaven, why can’t I breath’, Richard sputtered.
‘I never said this was Heaven, Richard, you did’, Peter replied.
‘Oh, I get it. Its heaven for you and Dives, but its hell for me, is that it?’
And with that he started choking again on his own breath. As his lungs heaved, and his chest surged violently, attempting to entice breath into it again, he clenched the bars of the gate in his fists.
‘Listen, Peter, or St. Peter, or whatever you want to be called, please. You have to help me. I can’t take it. There has got to be something over there that can help, an inhaler or some Vick’s, or something, anything. Send Dives. Send him to go get me something.
‘Richard, listen, you’ve already lived the good life. You had all you needed, and you spared no expense to suit your tastes. Dives here didn’t have any of that. His whole life was misery, a life he lived just a breath away from your luxury.’
Richard caught the pun and was not amused, though Peter kept going, as if he hadn’t meant it. ‘And now things have been…reversed. And of course, there is the matter of the gate.
‘What, this gate?! Let me guess, its locked?’
‘No, we don’t keep gates locked here. But I can’t help you, it can only be pushed in from the outside. I didn’t make it that way.’
‘So I can just push it open and come in whenever I want?
‘Well, its rather heavy. We can’t open it from in here to get to you, and I doubt you’ve the strength to push from out there. But even so it wouldn’t do you much good.
‘Well’, Peter said, ‘you know how you are having trouble breathing? Its because the air here is thinner than where you are from. And inside this gate it is much thinner than than it is even out there. Even if you could come in, I’m not sure you’d be able to stand it.
‘Dives seems to be fine’, Richard argued.
‘Well, he’s spent a lifetime breathing this air, in the midst of his own suffering, so he’s been more or less prepared for this, which is why he’s taken to golf so quickly, all the open air and green space, right Dives?
‘Yessir’, he said.
Richard lowered his head in understanding. ‘Then, at least go tell my friends and family. Tell my brother and my wife. And my sons. Please tell my sons. Send Dives to tell my sons. When they see Dives they’ll know who he was, that he’d been hit by that Hummer. They’ll listen to a man who’d been hit by a Hummer. They’ll listen to a man who’d been dead.
‘Richard, there will be plenty of people in their lifetime to convince them of the way of Jesus. If they don’t listen to them, they won’t be convinced, even if a man comes back form the dead. They will have no less opportunity than you had.
Richard slowly inhaled the most minuscule amount of oxygen, wondering if thats even what its called, ’Thats what I’m afraid of.’
Adam is the lead pastor at New Hope Community Church in Boardman, OH. He blogs at adambstevens.com