A passage about torment and mercy withheld may not seem like an uplifting story. But here, hellfire is hope.
If you have experienced the images of flames licking at your feet or little devils complete with pitchforks tormenting used as a threat to keep you in line, it might be hard to see hope in the fire.
For the rich man in Jesus’ story, the hellfire is not particularly hopeful either. He, who ignored Lazarus at his gate, knows in eternal life the torment the poor man knew in his mortal life. He cries out for mercy but no mercy comes his way. He pleads on behalf of his brothers who still live and might turn towards God. Father Abraham remains unmoved.
The rich man has no hope.
But we do.
We are the ones who might benefit from the lessons of the rich man. We are the ones who read the story and can say “but someone did rise from the dead!” Not the rich man but Jesus.
Jesus shares this parable in order that we might have an end of The Christmas Carol kind of moment, one where we realize it’s not too late. The rich man’s hellfire leads us to our hope that in the Lord Jesus Christ, his fate is not our own. We can change! We can still reach out to the Lazaruses at our gate. We can still offer care and compassion to those in need. We can seek justice. We can hope in the One who defeats the powers of sin and death, who bridges the chasm between heaven and Hades.
Amy Fetterman is a Virginia-based transitional pastor in the PC(USA) and co-author of Who’s Got Time: Spirituality for a Busy Generation from Chalice Press.
©2017 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.