Commercial pilot cum author, Jonah Lehrer opens his book “How We Decide” with a hair-raising retelling of an emergency landing of a Boeing 737, over Narita international airport. Everything was going fine on approach when suddenly the left engine failed. With several emergency lights flashing and sounds blaring indicating multiple system failures, Lehrer ran through the emergency checklist and had just determined that he should cut fuel and power to the affected systems to begin a restart when the plane suddenly took a sharp bank, and became impossible to fly. With the slowing plane dropping from 6000 feet toward the suburbs of Tokyo, Jonah was faced with two options. One pull up and hope that the remaining engine could gain the needed altitude without stalling. Or two, put the plane into a nose-dive and pray that the increased speed might stabilize it. He had no idea what to do. As nervous sweat stung his eyes there was no time to think, but he felt compelled to put the plane into a dive. The as the plane picked up speed it began to become easier to control, but the ground and the suburban houses were coming up fast. Lehrer regained enough control to level the plane just as the co-pilot announced they were at 1000 feet. They were able to limp to the runway and make an ugly landing.
Lehrer then let the reader in on a little secret he was flying simulator. However, even though it was a simulator Lehrer’s shaking hands, heart rate and blood pressure told him it was real. But he still wondered what if I had been convinced to take option one? With the emergency averted he and a few more seconds to consider the data he was un-convinced he made the best landing he could. The beauty of the digital simulator was that he could have another go.
Before his pulse settled the plane was reincarnated in the simulation. This time he chose to climb out of the fall with only one engine. Seconds after he began the climb the remaining engine stalled and the plane fell uncontrollably into a fiery crash.
This experience left Lehrer with the question the lead to his book “How We Decide”. How is it that humans make decisions they make. Are we rational creatures who become convinced as we compute information as Plato and Descartes imagined? Or is it our emotions that drive us especially in the split second moments like an impending airplane crash? Jonah Lehrer’s research suggest that humans are hard wired to integrate both data and emotional sides of the brain in the decision making process.
The gospel reading today describes a similar moment for a rich guy who faced the ultimate consequences of a bad life decision. I am quite certain that this unnamed fellow had wished that he were in simulator that could be rebooted, and his fiery predicament avoided.
In life this Rich man remained unconvinced to show mercy. Everyday laying out side the gate of the rich man lay Lazarus...
Who longed to satisfy his [hunger] with what fell from the rich man’s table Luke 16:21
The poor have a hunger that goes unsatisfied and often unnoticed by the rich.
Barbara Brown Taylor has interpreted Biblical scholars’ who site this passage as evidence for God’s “preferential option for the poor” in this way “Given a choice between siding with a rich person and siding with a poor person, God is going to choose the poor people every time- not because they are more virtuous, necessarily, but because if God weren’t on their side, no one would be. (Our True Value Barbara Brown Taylor 1999)
Jesus describes a scene where the data of the Moses and the prophets still leaves readers un- convinced to lead lives worthy of repentance. It’s too late for this unnamed rich guy to turn his life around to side with Lazarus and he is clearly filled with regret.
I think it is fitting that Luke gives no name to the rich man, because we might all find ourselves in this guy’s position. Traditionally, this rich man has been referred to as dives. But dives is not a name but Latin word for rich man that was used in the Vulgate. Over the years the church has made efforts to assign a name to this rich man like Nineveh, and Phineas. Perhaps this naming lets the rest of us off the hook. The truth is this unnamed rich one could be any of us.
It’s curious that Jesus names the poor man, Lazarus, perhaps this was a homage to his best friend whom he does actually raise form the dead in John’s gospel. Lazarus or Eleazar in Hebrew means God is our help. When we live dependent on the help of God, we find it compelling to reach out to all whom God places before us.
All of us run that risk of Matthew 25 moment when we stand before God and have to ask that question that begins “when was it that I saw you hungry or naked...? The answer to all of us whether we were convinced or not to help is that same. “When you did it to the least of these you did it to me.”
Barbara Brown Taylor wrote- There is no way to change the end of this story. The rich man is hot and Lazarus is not , but I still hear good news in it for everyone involved. God knows the rich can be as imprisoned by their wealth as the poor are by their poverty. (Our True Value, Barbara Brown Taylor 1999)
Taylor hears good news that is hard to hear. “All of us are imprisoned whether we have means or not. “ The truth of the good news convicts all of us.
Luke’s rich guy faced with the consequences of his actions or inactions. Finds himself trapped. And in moment of ultimate consequence, finds himself a beggar.
Father I [beg] you send him to my father’s house Luke 16: 27
This no name or every name rich guy begs to send Lazarus back from the dead to his brothers to convince them to turn their lives around before they die.
Who wouldn’t beg for the chance to help their loved ones avoid the consequence-laden mistakes.
Father Abraham seems to prefigure Plato and Descartes assumptions that humans are no more than logic machines. They have the facts of Moses and the Prophets that should be enough to convince them, But its not- they are un-convinced.
The rich man counters “but if someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.”
Again Abraham reflects that those who are not convinced by the facts of Moses and the Prophets will remain un-convinced even when faced with the fact of someone rising from the dead.
Facts are convincing but [life] is compelling
In the book, You Lost Me, David Kinnamann describes a difference between being convinced by facts or information and being compelled by wisdom. Kinnamann writes that Millennial generation.
[The millennial generation] have access to more knowledge content than any other generation in human history, but many lack discernment for how to wisely apply that knowledge to their lives and world.
Making sense of and living faithfully in a rapidly changing cultural context require massive doses of wisdom. But what, exactly, is wisdom? In the ancient Hebrew understanding, it is the idea of skillful living. As such, wisdom entails the spiritual, mental, and emotional ability to relate rightly to God, to others, and to our culture.
Proverb 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Wisdom is rooted in knowing and revering the God who has revealed himself in Christ through the Scriptures. We find wisdom in the Bible, in creation and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, in the practices and traditions of the church, and in our service to others. (2011 You Lost Me David Kinamann)
The fact of Moses and Prophets and even the Nicene Creed are not enough to convince us to make the right decision.
We humans make decisions not only with facts and logic, or only with emotion or intuition. We make decisions by wisely deploying both. Wisdom is a way of living faithfully that integrates information as well as our intuition. It’s in this wisdom or faithful living that we humans become compelled to act.
___ Do something that demonstrates the resurrection – wisely live in faith
___ Practice fasting stir up a Lazarus hunger to get our help from God.
___ Practice sharing – to overcome our rich guy nature