From The Waiting Father: Sermons on the Parables of Jesus, by Helmut Thielicke, translated by John W. Doberstein (Harper & Row, ©1957)


Excerpt from: The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus


Do not imagine that a messenger will come from the beyond and confirm what is said in Moses and the prophets, what seems to you to be so unverifiable, so mythological. Father Abraham will not send you any such occult confirmation. For anybody who has an interest in evading God will also consider an appearance from the dead an empty specter and delusion. Nor will the heavens open above us and God will perform no miracle to bring us to our knees. For God is no shock therapist who works upon our nerves; he loves you as his child and it's your heart he wants.


So there will be no one appearing from the dead, no voice from heaven will sound, nor will there be any miracle in the clouds. None of this will come to you — you, who are one of the rich man's five brothers. We have only the Word, the Word made flesh and crucified, that namelessly quiet Word which came to us in one who was as poor and despised as his brother Lazarus. For he really wanted to be his brother. And that's why there could be no brass bands to march before him. That's why he renounced all royal pomp and show. That's why he had to risk the effect of ambiguity and forgo the demonstration of his power.


He wanted to be the brother of the poorest and in this way show them his love. "We love you," said Hermann Hesse, "because you are one of us." And therefore, like his brother Lazarus, Jesus too lay at the world's back door when he was born in a stable in Bethlehem. No one would have believed his love and brotherliness if he had come in the splendor with which human imagination is accustomed to clothe the image of God.


So he came, because of love, in great stillness, and you can hear and see him only if you hold your own heart completely still. You must hear the good words he spoke to the poor, the quiet people. But you cannot listen to them as you listen to the loud voices of the world, as you listen to the radio and read the headlines of a newspaper. If you are afraid of the stillness, then you must necessarily miss hearing them altogether.


And that's why, too, he never loved public miracles, and that's why the five brothers, the representatives of mankind, are not granted, even today, the miraculous spectacle of a messenger from the dead. This would never cause them to meet him heart to heart; it would only stimulate their nerves and conceal from them the love which alone can heal and save them.


Accordingly, there remains to us, the five brothers, nothing but "Moses and the prophets" and all that they have to say about this Jesus. He who does not hear these and is not saved here cannot be helped by messengers from the dead.


So the fact is that a high and awful gravity hovers over this story, which at first one may read as only a colorful tale. Here the question is the ultimate limits of our life and the ultimate limit of the patience of God. No one can ever get past this story without a ringing in his ears that says, "This night your soul is required of you. Who are you and where do you stand?"


But at the same time this story is filled with a comfort and a joy that covers us like a protecting mantle; for through him who tells this story we five brothers are now actually being called. At the crossroads where we find ourselves today, where we must decide where and to whom we want to belong for time and eternity, he hangs like a beacon on his Cross — a sign, a stirring sign that for him my right decision was so important that he died for me. On the crossroads between heaven and hell hangs Jesus Christ. There he died for you and for me. There he hangs as a sign that the way to life is still open, that he has opened it, that the acceptable time is still here, that the hour of visitation is not yet over, that the Father is still waiting for us.


"This night your soul is required of you." But the awful eternity that speaks with majestic gravity in that summons has lost its terrors, because he has prepared a place for us and made us see that the judge is our Father. Through his love I have become a Lazarus and the mercy of God upon Lazarus remains mine in this world and the next. If I live, I live in him. If I die, I die in him, and nothing can snatch me out of his hand.


This night will God require of you your life. Who are you? Where do you stand? Tonight, tonight!