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“Pearly gate” anecdotes

 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in the place of the dead, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will change their minds.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone would rise from the dead.’ ” Luke 16: 20-31
 
How often do you hear (and tell) pearly gate jokes? They often involve a conversation with Peter where he asks pertinent questions which reveal what the one arriving at the gate didn’t want Peter to know….. Like the lawyer whose reply to his age at death was questioned because Peter could see that, from his time sheets, he was very much older.

It’s hard to believe that Jesus Christ would tell a story like that. Nevertheless, of all Jesus’ recorded statements, the one in bold above (as recorded by Luke, his first-century biographer) comes closest to being a “pearly gate” anecdote. 

What do you make of it? The story was told to Pharisees – members of a devout politico-religious group in Jerusalem around AD 30. Being lovers of money, they had ridiculed Jesus because he had said: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (See last week’s Info for Islanders.)
 
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‘There is no sin in poverty.’ (J C Ryle, churchman, 1816-1900)
As you can see the story concerns a rich man (unnamed) and a poor. The rich man wore designer clothes, bought his food at Waitrose and lived in a gated house rather like the one in Jersey sold recently for close to £25 million.

The poor was named Lazarus (according to the anecdote), was covered with sores and ulcers (malnutrition?), and was placed daily in the road outside the gates. He would happily have eaten well on the Waitrose scraps of food which fell from the rich man’s table. But it wasn’t to be.
 
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‘A piece of bread with God’s love is angel’s food.’(Thomas Watson, preacher and writer, 1620-1686)
Both died. One was “carried to Abraham’s side”; the other was buried and found himself in the place of the dead. There he could see Lazarus and Abraham. Jesus told this story around AD 30. Abraham lived around BC 2000. He was the founding father of the present Jewish nation. In fact his grandson, originally called Jacob, was later re-named Israel.

In the story the rich man is able to speak to Abraham. He wants Lazarus to go back to earth to do certain things for him – he who did nothing for Lazarus on earth. One of the things he wants Lazarus to do is to speak to his (the rich man’s) five brothers – because they will listen to him if he rises from the dead.

Abraham is clear in his responses. (1) Lazarus cannot now move to the place of the dead – there’s too great a void in between. Nor can the rich man move out of his place. (2) If they [the rich man’s brothers] do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone would rise from the dead.’ Past events (Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead) have certainly indicated that, today, Jersey folk are uninterested in the answer to their impending death, presumably until, like the rich man, they are actually dead.

Apologies – I’m very conscious that this story from Jesus is no pearly gate joke. In its stark simplicity however it calls us to think more deeply about the poor, the desperately injured, the starving, the homeless, the freezing Middle Easterners this winter. Much more important, it calls us to think about our individual, responsible selves and how the “now” determines the “hereafter”

How can we escape the consequences – on others and on ourselves – now and later - of our own self-preservation?
 
Richard Syvret

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