Later Will Take Care of Itself
Maybe we imagine what happens after we die so that we can tell stories about how we should want to live.
I have never died.
I’m not saying that I haven’t come close. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t be dead. There have been plenty of opportunities, and in any reasonable world I probably would have died several times by now.
But it’s never actually happened. I have never died; so I don’t know what happens after we die.
I mean, I know a few things. When I die, some people will take the bits of my body that are still useful and give them new jobs for new owners. Then they’ll take the rest of my body, and reduce it to ash, and make it into food for trees. And some people will miss me. And, to be honest, if I’ve done everything right, some people will breathe a sigh of relief.
And there are people who believe that there is a part of me that is not my body. And that part of me will stand before God. And all of the good that I have done will be weighed. And all of the evil that I have done will be weighed. And based on that measure, I will go to a good place… or a bad place.
And some people say that the evil always weighs too much. Some people say that any amount of evil—even a speck of evil—will send me to a bad place. But if I am faithful, then Christ will step in, and brush the speck away, and let me into a good place. But only if I have been faithful.
And there are people who believe that nothing will happen at all. That there is no part of me that is not my body. That the last neuron will fire and then the lights will go out. And the people will come, and take everything that I am, and reduce it to ash, and make me into food for trees.
And I’ll be honest. I’ve never really cared about the things that come after we die. I figure that we’re either doing the right stuff now or we’re not. The good is outweighing the evil now or it’s not. The evil is there now or it’s not. I have faith now or I don’t. I am nothing more than my body now or I am not.
And that if I focus on the now… the later will take care of itself.
In today’s reading, Jesus tells a parable about life and death and life after death…
Once upon a time, there was rich man. And once upon a time, there was a poor man.
The rich man was… rich. He dressed in fine linen and deep purple.
It was the kind of purple… well… people worked hard to make this purple. They caught sea snails. A lot of sea snails. It took around twelve thousand snails to made about a gram-and-a-half of dye. And that was enough to color the trim of a piece of clothing. They caught all of these snails. And they put them in vats. And they waited for them to die and decompose. And it stunk to high heaven.
There was a law that said that if a man and a woman got married, then the man became someone who made this dye, then the woman could divorce him just for that. Because the stink… stuck. And no one should be subject to that kind of career change.
And there was another law that said that only very important people could wear the purple.
The rich man was rich. And he feasted sumptuously every day.
The poor man was… poor. He dressed in rags. He didn’t feast at all. He was desperate for food. He would’ve eaten off the floor under the rich man’s table; but the rich man did not invite him in. And every day, the poor man laid at the gate to the rich man’s estate. And nobody would help him, except for the dogs who came up to lick his skin.
And then, one day, the poor man died. And then, one day, the rich man died.
And then, one day, the rich man woke up. There were no fine linens. There were no deep purples. There were no sumptuous feasts. There was just darkness… and the flames that rose up to lick at his skin. And he was hot, and parched, and in agony.
But if he squinted… he could see… a long way up above him… his ancestor Abraham… and the man who use to lie at the gate to his estate. What was his name? Hadn’t someone once said, “That poor… Lazarus.”
So the rich man climbed up on some rocks to be a little closer, and the flames rose, and he cried out in his torment, “My ancestor Abraham! Thank heaven! Can you send your servant Lazarus to me with just a touch of water? I am hot… and parched… and in agony in these flames!”
And Abraham said… … …
“No. You see, during your life, you have the good and Lazarus had the evil. And now, during your afterlife, you each get the opposite. You get the evil now in proportion to the good you had in life. And Lazarus gets the good now in proportion to the evil he had in life. So you get a lot evil. And Lazarus gets a lot of good.”
“And besides that, there’s a chasm between us. Even if I wanted to send Lazarus to you—and I want to be very clear that I do not want to do that—I couldn’t.”
And the rich man… the man who used to be rich… begged and pleaded. For water. For mercy. For someone to rise from the dead and warn his family about what was to come. And all that he heard… was no.
And was left to the flames.
I have never died; so I don’t know what happens after we die. And I’m definitely not saying that this is what happens after we die.
Because if this is what happens after we die, I am in trouble. I live a comfortable life. And there might not be anyone lying at the gate to my estate, but I know the truth. There are people in this world who do not have enough. And part of the reason that they do not have enough is that I have more than enough.
And if what comes next is a calculation… if what comes next is a scale with the good that I have received on one side and the evil that I have received on the other… if what comes next if just turning the tables… then I am in trouble.
And I’ll be honest. I’ve never really cared about the things that come after we die. I figure that if I focus on the now… the later will take care of itself.
Maybe we imagine what happens after we die so that we can tell stories about how we should live. Maybe we imagine what happens after we die so that we can tell stories about how we should want to live.
Because I can tell you that we live in a world where people are known and praised and celebrated for having a lot. And not just having a lot, but keeping a lot. And not just keeping a lot but hoarding a lot.
We live in a world where people are known and praised and celebrated for having unimaginable wealth… we live in a world where we can be a little… preoccupied… with accumulating wealth… even as the poor of the world lie at our gates.
And here’s the thing:
I have never died; so I don’t know what happens after we die. But I know that accumulating wealth does not guarantee happiness now. And I know that hoarding the good does not guarantee joy now.
And I know that sharing what I am blessed to have… does.
And I hope that after I die, and all of the business of my body is dealt with, people will stand up. And not a single one will say that I was rich, but that I was kind; not that I had fine linens and deep purples, but that I had a generous heart; not that I ate sumptuously, but that I shared what I had.
And that, by following Christ, by accepting grace, by living a life of abundance, I will be able to stand in the kingdom of God in whatever world is to come… and that, more importantly, by doing all of those things, I will be able to stand in the kingdom of God here and now.