We often hear the expression “making a name for yourself” or some variation of it when speaking about how we interact with society. We are surrounded by names. Streets, buildings, rivers, mountains, even cities and counties often bear the name of someone famous from history. It has long been a tradition of humanity to leave behind some sort of legacy for future generations to remember us by. Some even suggest this trend is linked to our genetic footprint that we feel compelled to spread.
This is why the Gospel lesson today comes as a shock. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31) turns over the logic we tend to consider when we speak of legacies. We hear about “a certain rich man” who died and was tortured in heaven. We don’t know his name. The only legacy he left behind was to say, “Some rich man used to live here and then he died.” How sad for him. He spent his entire life gathering wealth, living a life of luxury in a home filled with servants, and we never get to know his name.
On the contrary we hear a man named Lazarus who spent his life begging for food on the very doorstep of this rich man. In life he was passed by, probably often being stepped over as people were entering the rich man’s house. Yet is heaven everyone knows his name. He is being welcomed and comforted by God. At his death the angels escorted him directly to God’s loving embrace.
In these two examples we hear a warning from our Lord about what heaven is going to be like. In a series of parables, Jesus reveals to us the condition of our hearts and how we might be expected to experience heaven. In the case of the rich man who was preoccupied with making a name for himself during life, he was tormented as an unknown being forced to watch Lazarus being comforted by God. In Lazarus’ case, while he was unknown and suffered in life, in heaven everyone knew his name. He was welcomed, embraced, and comforted by God.
If we spend life focused on making a name for ourselves rather than focusing on the needs of others, we will likely experience heaven as torment. If we find it difficult to watch others honored and blessed while we struggle, we will likely experience heaven as torment. We will likely be unknown.