Fr Bosco Peters presided and preached at the 10am Mass. Our Gospel reading was taken from Luke 16:19-31.

Read on for the sermon and a video of the service.

Service Video


This week, in the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, in the midst of magnificent pomp and ceremony, our Christian hope in death was vividly presented. Today's story may, at first glance, look like a detailed documentary of the afterlife, a geography lesson about the next world - but if we hear it like that we might actually miss other things that Jesus is teaching today.

Jesus tells a story of reversing fortunes after death. At the time of Jesus, stories of reversing fortunes in the afterlife were a popular folk tale tradition, and Jesus' story today fits into the pattern of such stories.

Jesus' story today is just like we have a tradition of telling jokes and stories about people arriving at the pearly gates. We do not think that our pearly-gates stories are really giving details of the afterlife - they are generally doing something else. And so, similarly, there's far more going on in today's parable.

Today's story is about a rich man ignoring a poor beggar called Lazarus.

There's a barrier - a great divide - between the rich man and the poor man.

The rich man controls resources; he also has power in the systems of taxation that perpetuate the "great divide" between him and Lazarus. The rich control the Temple, the religious and social institutions that keep out the poor and impure.

But you notice there's a gate: at the rich man's gate lay a poor man named Lazarus.

They both die - and this is where we mustn't get too literal with the details: in the story the rich man in hell can communicate with people in heaven. The rich man is in flames but he can talk. And he's surviving.

What you do notice is that on earth the rich man saw himself as superior to Lazarus. And now in the afterlife, the rich man says "send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue." He still regards Lazarus as being inferior. He wants Lazarus to serve him.

While alive - we can make changes. The rich man could have crossed the barrier of the wall around his house. The rich man could have gone through his gate and helped the poor man. The poor man used to long to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table.

It's no wonder that Abraham says to the rich man in Hades that between you and Lazarus a great chasm has been fixed - the barrier is fixed; there is no longer a gate. Because the chasm, the barrier, the wall is in the rich man's heart. Even in death and torment and agony the rich man continues with his fixed, entitled divisiveness.

Luke has been stressing over these last few weeks that it is the rich and privileged, those with power and status, who create the divide. It is not God who makes the barriers. The parable isn't a picture of medieval hell.

Jesus constantly takes our ideas and turns them upside down and inside out. Jesus takes our images for hell and reverses them. Jesus wasn’t so much teaching about hell as he was un-teaching about hell. Jesus isn't simply arguing for a different understanding of the afterlife. Jesus is doing something far more important and radical: Jesus is giving us a new image of God, an image that will change us.

God is not the one who condemns the poor and weak. God is not the one who favours the rich and righteous. God is the one who loves everyone, including the people the rest of us think don’t count.

And whenever you and I create or maintain an unbridgeable chasm between people, then we are automatically on the wrong side of it.

In the story, the rich man expresses concern for his biological brothers. He continues to miss the point: had he recognised that Lazarus IS his brother in God's new family, if he had shown the concern for Lazarus as his brother in the way that he shows concern for his biological brothers then he would not be in this predicament.

And Jesus constantly teaches us about our need to die to self - there is a death that leads to life. Lose yourself and you will find yourself.

The rich man in the story just doesn't get that. He is dead, but he hasn't died the death that leads to life. He still lives in the world he's constructed in which he is above Lazarus, the world in which he would have Lazarus serve him.

Jesus gives us a death, a death to self, that leads a person into the only life that is worth living. And too often the people that go on and on and on about going to hell after death are the least concerned about the hells on earth right now.

Poverty isn't the only hell that we have made. The superiority of wealth isn't the only table that you and I can feast sumptuously at every day.

We need to go to the gates of the walls we put up - the walls that we put up - between people. We need to go through the gates and recognise all people as part of God's new family. We need to knock down the walls and fill in the chasms.

Some people can feast sumptuously every day at the table of the superiority of their gender, or of their race, of language, of worship style, of their sexuality, of culture, of religion, of their world view.

But whenever you and I create or maintain an unbridgeable chasm between people, then we are automatically on the wrong side of it.

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