It was a favorite of the fundamentalist preachers of my childhood. They scared the hell out of me whenever they told this story.
And, they told it often.
It’s the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
You remember it don’t you? The rich bachelor who lived in his penthouse suite on the corner of 64th and Central Park in Manhattan? His suite, with its wrap around balcony, gave the rich dude a near panoramic view of the city.
Outside his wrought-iron fence, the gate that protected his penthouse apartment from the riffraff of this world, sat Harry the homeless guy every day. In fact, there was never a day he missed. Each morning, and again each evening, he would meet and greet the rich bachelor on his way to work and when he returned at the close of the day.
“Good morning, sir!” Harry would say in the morning. “Good evening, sir!” he’d repeat in the evening. And, with a predictableness as anticipated as the rising and setting of the sun, the rich bachelor would reach inside the pocket of his Versace suit pants, retrieve his money clip, pull out a $5 dollar bill in the morning and another in the evening, and place it in the dirty hand of Harry, the homeless guy.
“Thank you, sir," he'd say on cue. "God bless you, too."
This went on day in and day out for years. Until one day, Harry wasn’t there to greet the rich bachelor. Nor was he there in the evening.
At first, the rich bachelor shrugged it off, assuming Harry wasn’t feeling well that day. But, when day one became day two, then day three and four, the rich bachelor knew something was not right.
One morning, he stopped the patrol officer coming off the night beat in Central Park.
“Excuse me, Officer,” the rich bachelor called out. “Would you know whatever happened to Harry?”
Just then, he realized that, in all years he had seen Harry outside his gated apartment, he had never bothered to learn Harry’s last name.
“You know,” he stumbled as he pointed toward the pavement, “the homeless fellow who used to sit outside my gate here…”
The Officer just slowly shook his head from side to side and then said, “You haven’t heard, have you?"
“Heard what?” asked the bachelor.
“Harry died a few nights ago."
There was a pause that was long and awkward.
"My partner and I found him slouched over a park bench just over there.” The officer was pointing to an empty park bench just on the other side of a hedge on the inside of the park itself.
“Not sure what happened to him,” explained the Officer. “A heart attack or something. We never heard.”
And, with that, the Officer walked on.
“Have a good day!” he said in parting.
Now, had the story ended there, it would have been a sad story to hear but not so peculiar. The world is full of homeless people. Though fewer in number, the world has its share of rich folks, too, who live in high-priced apartments overlooking Central Park.
But here’s where the story takes a weird turn.
Before that day ends, something happens to the rich bachelor, too.
You heard me right.
He walked to the corner coffee café, still stunned by the news from the officer that Harry had passed away.
“Good morning,” says the clerk, recognizing the bachelor as he walked slowly through the door.
“Will it be the usual?” she called out.
“Yes, yes,” he responded.
He picked up a copy of the New York Daily and, with cup of coffee in hand, he proceeded to sit in the corner of the café.
No sooner did he, however, but he dropped both the coffee and the New York Daily, slumped to the floor, and, he too, breathed his last.
"See what I mean?
Strange story indeed.
But wait, it gets stranger still.
In the scene that follows, the rich bachelor wakes up in hell where he suffers and suffers and suffers still more.
While peering across a divide greater than that of the Grand Canyon, he sees from the pits of hell all the way up to heaven above where Harry the homeless man was reclining in peace and comfort. Plenty to eat and drink, too.
He cried out to Mother Mary.
“Please Mother Mary (or, as Jesus told it, “Please Father Abraham…”) let Harry dip his finger in cold water and come quench my thirst. I am suffering here in hell.”
“I’m sorry,” she responded. “He cannot. I cannot. There is nothing either of us can do for you.”
“Then, please…please,” the rich bachelor continued, “let him or someone from above go back to my family and friends in New York and warn them to not live as I lived…so they won’t end up like me, suffering as I am in such a horrible place.”
“I’m sorry,” responded Mary, “but I cannot do that either. Besides, it would do no good. They have churches and priests and preachers and spiritual teachers…let them listen to them."
“That’s just it,” he argued. “They won’t listen to them. They don’t listen to anybody. But let somebody come back to life...let someone come back from the dead, then they’ll believe…I know they’ll believe.”