God’s greatest rival: the religion of Mammon. “You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). This is because money has the capacity to touch the very depths of our soul. How can it do that? It has no poetry! There are no poems about money: I can’t think of a single example. It could be that it only takes over souls that have no capacity for poetry. “If you want to see what God thinks of money,” someone said, “look at the people he gives it to.” In itself it is not an interesting subject. It is need and greed that lend it interest. It is, above all, a promise: that essential of any religion.
Its promises, however, are always just for oneself (or one’s family: one’s larger self). Listen to the advertisers. The underlying creed is that life has nothing to offer but what can be purchased or won, and that there is nothing either good or bad beyond that. All others are either partners or competitors: people who can help or hinder you in your search for more of the same.
I am thinking, of course, of pure devotees. Many, as in every religion, are not true believers, or have mixed motives. There are wealthy people who have a real care for the half of the world that is malnourished. But there are others, like the rich man in the parable, who don’t even notice Lazarus at their door, and who are therefore able to step over him without malice, keeping their own self-esteem intact. And there are others again who notice Lazarus but keep their self-esteem by throwing him a few scraps.
The religion of Mammon is a destructive cult. It not only destroys the poor by enriching its devotees at their expense, but it destroys the devotees themselves. They are creating “a great chasm” between themselves and the rest of humanity, so that “those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”
Which characters does the story ask us to identify ourselves with? The rich man, Dives? In fact he is given no name in the gospels: ‘dives’ is just the Latin word for ‘a rich man’; the rich man has no identity except his wealth. No, we are not being asked to see ourselves as Dives. Lazarus, then? No, neither is it telling us to lie down at the rich man’s door like Lazarus.
The parable is telling us that we are the rich man’s five brothers. We have Moses and the prophets – but above all we have Jesus – to tell us to live by a different religion, a subversive religion that “casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly, that fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty.” We are not told whether the five brothers changed their lives around. Why? Because we are the five brothers, and the story isn’t over yet.