The Good Place is my favorite television show right now. Recently deceased Eleanor arrives at this distinctly non-Christian afterlife utopia that offers frozen yogurt shops with hundreds of flavors, flying lessons, and a soul mate for everyone.
Eleanor knows she doesn’t belong there. She didn’t live the good and unselfish life on earth that the Good Place requires. Terrified that she’ll be discovered and sent to the Bad Place, Eleanor hides the truth from everyone except her soul mate, an ethics professor named Chidi. As he tries to teach her how to become a better person, we watch Eleanor learn to care for people and act in their best interests instead of her own. We assume that she is becoming a resident who belongs in the Good Place because her heart is growing.
When Jesus starts telling this parable in Luke and mentions the two characters, his first-century audience assumes that they already know them. The rich man will be righteous, the listeners first think, because they believe that earthly wealth indicates God’s favor. Lazarus must have led a sinful life, they first assume, because they believe that poverty and illness are God’s consequences for doing that.
As Jesus often shows, however, truth is not always what it appears to be. Socioeconomic status does not reflect the state of a person’s heart. Poverty does not keep Lazarus from being welcomed into Abraham’s presence (v. 22), and the rich man’s wealth cannot save him from agony (v. 24). What ultimately matters is giving oneself to the Love that never ends. Hearts that are rich in compassionate love will last forever.
Why does our compassion grow as we follow Christ? Why does having a compassionate heart matter?
God, have mercy on me, a sinner! Help me see myself in others’ stories and make my heart rich in compassion. Amen.