There is a simple response that rubs me the wrong way whenever I receive it from another person—especially when it comes from my children, and that is, “Whatever.” Things have changed in our lifetimes and one of the biggest changes has been in the words that we use . . . words do not always mean what we think they mean . . . especially in this day and age. “Whatever” is one of those words. Because of that, I am thankful that someone got smart and created a dictionary on the Internet for us old geezers so that we can understand the present generation when they speak to us.
In preparing for this sermon I wanted to make sure that my impressions of the word, “whatever”, were right . . . so, I looked it up in the Urban Dictionary. The Urban Dictionary had 62 different ways in which the word was used, but . . . it basically defined the word as “indifference” and as a “up yours” and “I don’t care” sort of word. For example, I say, “I really feel like a million bucks today”, and you respond, “Whatever!” Or, if I say to one of my kids, “You keep making that face and it will stay like that”, and they respond, “Whatever.” Basically it is a response of indifference . . . of, I don’t care . . . to what is said by another.
Surprisingly, the present generation is not the only generation that uses that word . . . we all do it. And, guess what, apparently that response doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight when dealing with God. This morning Jesus shares the parable of the rich man and Lazarus . . . a parable that might be better names, Whatever.
Hopefully everyone knows the parable. Lazarus is a poor beggar who ends up starving to death despite the fact that he did all of his begging outside of the house of a rich man . . . a rich man who could easily have spared some resources to help Lazarus out without even missing it. But the rich man chooses to ignore that which is right before his eyes, and Lazarus dies . . . goes up to heaven where he is greeted by Abraham, and is given the royal treatment.
Fast and rich living catches up the rich man and he dies pretty much at the same time that Lazarus dies; but instead of zipping up to heaven and being greeted by Abraham, the rich man tumbled on down to hell. There in hell he is tormented . . . is use to the lousy conditions . . . feels very uncomfortable in his treatment and surroundings. He is miserable. In his misery . . . way off in the distance . . . he can see Lazarus . . . Lazarus who looks pretty happy and comfortable up there in heaven. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus down and provide him with a little comfort. Abraham refuses.
Apparently the rich man realizes that he is not going to win this argument . . . he blew it despite knowing exactly what he was supposed to do . . . Moses had told him, the prophets had told him, his religion had told him—warned him, but he chose to ignore it . . . to be indifferent to it . . . to respond, “Whatever.” “Whatever” got him to hell. The lesson seems to be quite apparent to him as he is roasting away in hell. With this knowledge he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them of their impending fate if they do not change. Again, Abraham refuses.
Abraham refuses because, like the rich man, the brothers have all the information that they need. Moses pretty much laid it out with the Ten Commandments . . . the prophets laid it out in their warnings and teachings . . . the religion pretty much spelled it out for them. They have been told . . . they had been warned. If they chose to be indifferent to that which has been shared . . . to spurn their noses up in the air, and respond, “Whatever” . . . then there is nothing that be done to save them of the impending discomfort of hell. Abraham tells the rich man, “Whatever!”
Now one of the things we need to realize about the rich man—even in death—even in his place in hell—is that he never, ever says, I blew it! He never acknowledges his indifference . . . never acknowledges that he could have made the difference in another person’s life. Even after Abraham tells him no to his request of seeking comfort from Lazarus . . . he does not acknowledge that he blew it. He does not take responsibility for himself . . . he basically says, “Whatever, but can we warn my brothers?”
That is a nice gesture, right? The rich man is now thinking about someone else besides himself—right? Not really, he is not concerned with the fact that it was his indifference that put him in hell . . . no, he is only concerned with saving the hide and hair of his brothers. Again, the focus is quite selfish.
Abraham’s answer is, “Whatever . . . they have had their chance.”
There is not a whole lot of grace in this parable. Grace is free . . . but it does come with a price. That price is in admitting one’s wrongs . . . admitting one’s own indifference . . . of taking responsibility . . . and, if a person is willing to do those things, grace is his or hers.
How many of us, as kids, were warned by our parents to not do something because something bad could happen to us? All of us. The thing about this was that our parents did know what they were talking about because they had already done what they were telling us not to do. Did any of us listen? Nope . . . and then we came running in with a bloody nose, screaming and crying, only to hear our parents tell us, “I told you so.”
That is what the rich man encounters in Abraham . . . I told you so. Abraham lets the rich man know that he had been warned and should have known better . . . not much grace in such a statement.
Indifference can make us blind . . . blind to the world around us . . . blind to the needs of others . . . blind to even the presence of Jesus in our midst. Jesus had also told the parable of the sheep and goats . . . remember that parable? The scene is heaven. The people have been divided into two groups—the sheep and the goats. Each group is brought before Jesus and asked when they had helped him in their lifetimes. The sheep were welcomed into heaven with open arms; the goats, were not.
Of course, both groups asked Jesus when they had seen him to help him. To which he responded, when I was naked, poor, hungry, in prison . . . and, so on down the line. The sheep had helped those who were less fortunate; the goats had done nothing. The heavenly group rejoiced, the goats lamented and complained. To the goats, Jesus responded, “Whatever.”
This is not a parable about grace, this is a parable about indifference and its consequences. Abraham lays it out plainly . . . there are no excuses when it comes to what God desires . . . God desires that you love God completely, and that you love your neighbor. Your neighbor is all of God’s creation. Abraham lets the rich man—and us—know that Moses shared this information, the prophets shared this information . . . and, though he does not say it, Jesus shared and lived this information. It is pretty much common knowledge, especially for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. There are no excuses. Being indifferent is not going to get you into heaven.
None of us can stand before the throne of God, stammering, “But, but, but . . .” None of us can claim ignorance of what is expected of us when it comes to being faithful to God. None of us can spurn God, turn our noses up, claiming indifference, by saying, “Whatever!”
So, here we are warned by Jesus himself . . . don’t let indifference ruin your life and put you in hell. Open your eyes . . . see the world around you . . . see the hungry, the poor, the lost, the imprisoned, the lonely, the forgotten . . . see those who are on the outside of life . . . and, relate to them. Help them. Serve them. Be unto them as Jesus has been unto you. Don’t be indifferent.
That is a big task when one looks around the world in which we live . . . there are more problems than we can ever imagine . . . more than any one of us could ever solve . . . it is overwhelming. How can any of us ever make a difference? I don’t know, but I know we have to start where we are . . . one person at a time. They are all around us—like Lazarus at the gate of the rich man’s home . . . just waiting. Waiting to be invited in, cared for, and loved. “Whatever” does not hack it in the eyes of Jesus or God . . . it beats the alternative—hell. Amen.