Excerpted from: Parables and Passion: Jesus' Stories for the Days of Lent
Rich Man and Lazarus Luke 16:19-31
Have you ever played a game called "Prove It"? It's not a board game or video game. You can't order it from Milton Bradley or Nintendo. It's one of those games we play in relationships, adapt-able to all ages. Children often play it. "If you think you can climb the tree as high as I can prove it!" Sometimes it has a darker side, used to exclude someone who is on the outs at the moment. "If you're really my friend, you won't play with Robin—'cause I don't like her." As children mature, the game gets more sophisticated. The love of parents becomes the target of the testing. "If you really loved me, you'd trust me and let me stay out later..."
..."Prove it" has two major problems in human relationships. It is a game that can be very destructive, used to distort even the best of qualities for purely self-seeking ends. In the name of love or friendship, some very unloving and unfriendly behavior seeks justification. The other problem is its addictive nature. In relationships dependent on "proof" of love or friendship, the demands for proof never go away. Like any other addiction, spiraling degrees of proof are required as time passes. Relationships based on constant proofs fight a losing battle, because in the end love or friendship must derive from trust. And trust is not something you can coerce from another person. It will be learned through experience, not proved by contrived tests.
This notion of trust versus proof goes to the heart of Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The parable opens with a study in stark contrasts: a rich man who enjoys the benefits of this world's elite, and Lazarus who has to raise his eyes just to see past the gutter. When the next world comes, everything turns upside down. Beyond a morality tale about how tables get turned (and they will!), Jesus moves the story in an additional direction.
The rich man offers up what seems a hint of compassion for others, something clearly absent in his previous ignoring of Lazarus. The rich man (in some traditions called Dives) asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his five brothers about the follies of their ways. The appeal seems reasonable. It would be like the scene in A Christmas Carol by Dickens, where Ebenezer Scrooge's long-dead partner, Jacob Marley, visits him. The sounds of Marley's chains, forged by long years of greed and indifference, begin the journey of Scrooge toward compassion and humanity.
But listen to the reply of "Father Abraham" to Dives, a response that returns our focus to the theme of proving. "They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them." But the rich man is not satisfied. "But if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent." Bible, Schmible—nobody pays attention to that anymore. But let old Lazarus show up on the doorstep, and my brothers will beat a path to you. That'll prove it!...
...Beyond the parable these closing words become even more intriguing. The parable is told by Jesus: Jesus who later resuscitates a friend by the name of Lazarus, Jesus whom God resurrects to life at story's end (and discipleship's beginning). Does the parable's conclusion teach that even those events cannot prove faith? The answer may surprise us. The resuscitation of Lazarus pivots John's Gospel. From that point forward the Temple authorities determine Jesus must die. Capital punishment, not faith, is the verdict of the raising of Lazarus.
Jesus' resurrection evokes similar results. Disciples dismiss the first Easter witness announced by the women as an "idle tale" (Luke 24:11). Jesus shows his wounds to Thomas, only then to bless those who will believe without seeing. "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
Faith cannot be proved by apparitions from the dead any more than it can be verified by an alleged burial shroud subjected to scientific scrutiny. Proof is not and never has been the point of our life and standing in Jesus Christ. Rather, faith beckons trust expressed in love.
Save me, O God, from endless bargaining and proof-testing of your love. Deliver me into the grace that sets me free to live with grace and to trust you wholly. Amen.
Consider your faith and participation in faith community. Where do you struggle with the need for proof? How does the need for proof affect your ability to trust in God, in others, in yourself? Pray for guidance and discernment in these matters. Seek a more gracious trusting of God with your life, relationships, and faith community involvements.