He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” — Luke 16:31
Who do you listen to? Who will you believe? These are the fundamental questions that Jesus is asking at the end of his parable in the gospel lectionary reading today. The explanation of what happens to the poor man, Lazarus, and the unnamed rich man provides a rich amount of material for consideration. For starters, there is the dark warning about what happens to those who mistreat the poor. Then there are the questions about what happens after we die. Then questions about why Jesus mentions Abraham so often. But the ultimate question is about who will people choose to listen to, and what will shape their lives.
The rich man begs that someone warn his brothers, so that they will not follow in his misguided footsteps. But Abraham says that the brothers already have all the guidance they need, if they would only follow the instructions of Moses and the prophets. At this stage the rich man in the midst of torment acknowledges that his brothers won’t listen to the Scriptures, but he thinks they will listen to a message from a resurrected dead man. Abraham continues to refuse by saying that if the rich man’s brothers refuse to listen to the Scriptures then they won’t listen to the raised dead either. The irony of the presence of the pharisees, who are listening in, who don’t listen to Jesus before the crucifixion or after he is resurrected is poignant.
The question at the end of parable, along with the warning it carries, is haunting. The question is not simply about hearing the words of Scripture but allowing them to transform your life. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, asks a it slightly differently, “Did the Bible live in me today?” This is a way of focusing on not just learning the Bible stories, but realizing that they are supposed to impact our lives. Applying Scripture to our lives is one of the most powerful ways that God shapes us.