September 25, 2022

That Gap

Passage: Jeremiah 32:1–3a, 6–15, Luke 16:19–31

Today you can buy a condo in Kyiv, Ukraine, for almost a half off what it was a year ago. 

Yes, real estate is still selling in the Ukraine. You can find websites that list lots of properties in the Ukraine, for a steal of a price. 

And there are a couple of reasons to buy property in Ukraine. 

If you are an investor and have lots of money, the potential is that properties will shoot up in value, because there will be a real scarcity after the war ends. 

Your million-dollar investment might double or even triple. 

Although, there is warning. There is a risk to investing in property in the Ukraine right now. Nobody knows how or when the war might end.  


But there is another reason to buy in the Ukraine, not an economic reason, but a little more sentimental. 

It is called hope. 

To buy in the Ukraine might be for some Ukrainians a sign of hope that in the midst of terrible troubles, war and unrest, and an uncertain future, there is a belief that this will eventually pass and things will go back to normal. 

That would be a brave symbolic gesture in the midst of troubled times in the Ukraine. 


But that is the symbolic gesture Jeremiah did. He bought a field while the city of Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians. 

A sign of hope. A symbolic gesture. 


Of course, we who know the story, know that Jerusalem would be conquered by the Babylonians, who would then go on to burn down and destroy all buildings of substance and execute lots of people, and take pretty much everything of value, everything metal, even things like dishes, and take it back to Babylon. They took something like fourty thousand slaves, killed many others and the few that were left had nothing. 

Stories in the scriptures talk about children starving and even cannibalism, things were so bad. 


Oh yes, we know the story. But Jeremiah knew the story ahead of time. In fact, the young king Zedekiah asked for the prophet Jeremiah’s advice, on what to do and the prophet told him to give up. Surrender. You cannot win. God is telling you to accept defeat. 

But Zedekiah didn’t listen to Jeremiah. Instead, he had Jeremiah arrested and eventually thrown in a muddy cistern for a jail. 

And Zedekiah turned to Egypt for help against the Babylonians, a decision that would lead to Babylonia crushing Jerusalem. Zedekiah’s sons were put to death in front of his own eyes. And then Zedekiah was blinded. 

It was as Dickens would say: The worst of times. 


So, when Jeremiah bought the field just before the destruction of Jerusalem, he was not making a canny investment, thinking that real estate prices would shoot up after the war… 

…he already knew that they were going to lose… 

What he was saying symbolically is that the Babylonians, not matter how terrible they were, did not have the last word, and that eventually God would restore Jerusalem. 


But it was a huge gap between the reality of utter destruction and the hope and promise of a future restoration. 

A huge gap. 


I don’t know about you, whether you have ever been in a situation of desperation, and/or destruction, or loss, or grief, or violence, of abuse, or oppression… 

And there was a huge gap between the terrible reality of the present moment, and your hope for the future. 


I expect most of us have had some difficult times. And so, I want you to think about that gap between despair and hope, because I think it will shed some light on the gospel text and another gap that Jesus talked about. 


Let me start introducing that gap by telling you a story. 


Once upon a time there was little boy named John and a little girl named Susan. 

They were born to loving parents in a small town in North America. 

Their parents loved them and told them a wonderful dream, that if you work hard enough, and try hard enough, and never give up, and follow your dream, you can be anything you want. 

You can be rich and famous and desirable and happy and live happily ever after… 

…because this is America… and it doesn’t matter your skin colour, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a boy or a girl, and it doesn’t matter if your parents are high class or low class. 

… you dream it, you work towards it, and you can be it, and you can achieve it. 


And John and Susan grew up on that great continent of North America and believed it. 

They worked hard, they studied hard, they were determined. They never gave up, and they became exactly what they wanted to be, and they got all the money and fame they ever needed. And they found the perfect soul mates; and John got married and had children and lived happily ever after, and Susan met someone, didn’t get married and have children, but lived happily ever after. 


The Question is this: Is that the American dream, and is it real and is it possible? 

Or is that a fairy tale? 


Anecdotally, you can find whatever you want to find. You can find lots of people who were poor or disadvantaged, who grew up to be rich and famous, who became what they wanted to be… 

But I am not so sure statistically. Looking at the Canadian website Canada without Poverty and a website from the States Centre for American Progress the statistics  

show things like one in seven children in the United
States live poverty. One in eight people in Edmonton live in poverty. And it is worse for aboriginals and people of colour and for females. 

The million children in poverty in Canada and the eleven million children who live in poverty in the United States are poor because their parents are poor. Single parent families tend to be some of the poorest families. 


And here are some of the reasons. The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. The incomes of the poorest people have fallen twenty percent. 

Unemployment is a problem. 

Racism, sexism, ableism are factors in why some people cannot get jobs. 

Increasingly low paying jobs are often part time jobs, so benefits don’t have to be paid.  

National investment in housing in Canada has decreased 46%. 

People with mental illness or physical disabilities do not give adequate support, and while the Alberta Government maintains they support the handicapped better than other provinces, not providing a living wage to the handicapped is nationwide. 

National daycare is a problem and low-income families don’t have affordable daycare. 

While minimum wages have risen, they don’t rise as fast as inflation, and parents working for minimum wage find it practically impossible to raise a family with children.  


The Gap between rich and poor is huge, growing, and not particularly getting addressed. 

And while governments and political parties say they don’t forget the poor, strategies to help the poor are not what get governments elected. 


And while we all like to think that in Canada and the United States, you can be poor, a person of colour, indigenous, or disadvantaged, but if you work hard, and never give up, you can have a piece of the pie, American Apple Pie, or maybe in Canada, Saskatoon Berry Pie. 

The reality is different. The gap is growing… 


The once upon a time story of the American or Canadian dream… is turning out, to not be a happily ever after for millions of people. 



And it might have been even worse in Jesus’ day and in the nation of Israel. 

It wasn’t the best of times. It wasn’t the worst of times, but it wasn’t good times. 


Israel was occupied by a foreign power, who actually split it up. Different parts of Israel were ruled by different people appointed by the Roman Oppressors. 

Taxes were high. 


A few people did okay. There were wealthy Jews. 


And they didn’t have the American Dream.  

But they had their own versions of the American Dream. 

One of them was this. 


When the Messiah comes, everything will be all right. When the Messiah comes there will be a chicken in every pot, a chariot in every driveway, all the injustices will be righted, the bad guys will be destroyed and punished, and the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and there will be peace and good wine to drink and good food. 


That dream still persists in Christian circles. Come to Jesus, and Jesus will heal your sickness, fix your marriage, forgive your sins and get you a job paying six figures. 


Of course, Jesus did not turn out to be the Messiah that some people thought. Turns out that the Messiah, was non-violent, suffered and died, and told us to turn the other cheek, and take up our cross, forgive one another and love our enemies. 


But there was another American Dream that the Jews had, a story that was told by a certain segment of the Jews in Jesus day. 

It went like this: If you strictly obeyed the law and kept yourself clean and undefiled and separate from sinners and unclean people. If you washed ceremonially several times a day, kept the Sabbath rules rigorously, tithed and follow all the rules… 

The God would bless you with wealth and security and when you died you would be taken up to Abraham’s Bosom. 

And the understanding was also this. If you were sick, or leprous, or diseased, or poor, or unemployed, or mentally ill, you obviously had done something to deserve if, for God who controlled everything, wouldn’t let something happen to you if you kept the law strictly. 


Interestingly enough, it was pretty much only rich people who could follow all the cleanliness rules, and wash several times a day and ritually fast and do all the animal sacrifices, and not work or do any labour on the Sabbath, and rigorously keep the rules. 


And Jesus saw this and decides one day to take the story that was common and turn it on its head. 


Some Scholars call this story a parable. It actually might be a satire. It is the use of humour or irony to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices. 


I do not believe that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a literal depiction of life after death, but the Jewish dream turned on its head, exposing the rich who not only don’t care for the poor, be separate themselves deliberately from the poor and think the poor are cursed by God. 


The gap in Jesus’ day between rich and poor was vast and even part of their theology. 


So instead of the rich, pious Jew who keeps all the rules going to Abraham’s bosom, it is the poor beggar Lazarus. 

That would have been shocking for many Jews to hear. 


But what is maybe just as shocking is that Jesus gives some clues as to whom he may be poking fun at. 


The rich man is dressed in purple and fine linen. The rich man lived in luxury. The rich man had five brothers, who lived in their father’s house. They had Moses and the prophets. They wouldn’t be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead. 


Who is dressed in purple and fine linen? Priests.  

Who had Moses? The Sadducees followed the books of Moses. And the prophets? The Pharisees followed both Moses and the prophets. 

Who wouldn’t be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead? 

Well in John’s gospel chapter 12 you will read that people came to see Lazarus, because Jesus had raised him from the dead. So, the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. So even though many people believed in Jesus because of Lazarus, the chief priests didn’t believe, even though Lazarus is raised from the dead. 


Don’t look at the story of the rich man and Lazarus, from our perspective 2000 years later, and to the many understandings of afterlife and hell to which we have been exposed. 

Look at the story from the perspective of the crowd in Jesus’ day. To the crowds, the story is about the chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin. 

And in particular, there was a man who lived in luxury and had five sons, who lived in their father’s house. 

He was Caiaphas, the current high priest. 


Jesus is poking fun at rich Pharisees and rich Sadducees, in particular, those on the Sanhedrin, in particular, priests, and in particular the high priest. 


And he is pointing out the terrible gap in Hebrew society that comes from smug entitlement. 

Jesus is pointing out a hell. It is the inability to see those in need. It is withholding mercy, love, compassion, forgiveness and kindness, from your brother and sister in need. 

Hell is that gap in one’s soul between catering for the self, and caring for others. 

Hell is that gap in society and culture and religion and politics that rewards the rich and the right people, and disadvantages the poor, the different, the broken, the criminal, and the sick. 


And we all have our own version of it. I deserve it. I’ve worked hard for it. I own it. I look after my family.  

We all have times of not seeing those in need, or putting it out of our minds. 

We all have times when we are too tired, too selfish, too lazy, too unconcerned to fight for structural changes to make the lives of the poor better. 


We all have our own version of prosperity theology, that our material comforts are the result of God’s blessing. 


I don’t think Jesus told us this story to scare us about the big gap between heaven and hell after we die. 


But to expose the gap that exists in this world and in people’s souls, that we might do something to close the gap. 

After all, Jesus is the one who eats with sinners, with the unclean. 

Jesus is the one who touches the unclean, by healing the sick and raising the dead. 

Jesus is the one who cares for the outsiders, like the Syrophoenician woman, and the Roman Centurion. 

Jesus is the one who forgives the enemy. 


Jesus is always closing the gap. 


You know there is a Greek word for “gap” that you find in the New Testament. The word is “hamartia.” It literally means missing the mark. It is the gap between what one should do and what one does. It is the gap in your soul where you make an error of judgement. 

And in the bible that word “hamartia” is translated “sin.” 


Jesus is the one who bridges that gap, who forgives that gap, who heals that gap, who closes that gap in our souls, that we become who we truly are…  

To become who God made us to be: God’s children, made in God’s image to love God and love one another. 


Jesus is the one who crosses over that huge gap called death, to resurrect us to a new way of being. 

A way of sacrifice, a way of caring, a way of seeing others in need, a way of losing our lives in order to gain a new kind of live. 


Many years ago, in the midst of destruction, during the worst of times, a prophet named Jeremiah investing in buying a field as a sign of hope. 


Today, let us think about how we could invest in the poor. 

What tangible thing could you do? Go home and think about it and pray about it? 

This sign is not about getting anything back for the self. And this sign will not end poverty. But it is a sign of hope that the humanity will see the poor and reach out to help. And it begins with you and me.