And, implied in his plea is the question, “Will they believe?”

And, right there, the strange story ends.

Can you see why the fundamentalist preachers loved it?  The preachers who believed…and some still do...that, if you believe as they believe, you’ll go to heaven when you die. But, if you don’t believe as they believe,  you’ll burn in hell forever?

Seems simple enough. Scary enough. Their preaching was by nature designed to scare the hell out of you so you’d come forward at the end of their sermon, like folks used to do in the Billy Graham Crusades, and say a “Sinner’s Prayer,” and so get “saved,” as they called it.
Christianity was…and, for some, it is...all about getting people saved so they'll go to heaven instead of hell when they died.

That would all be fine and good, except for one little thing…no, this one big thing.  Going to heaven or hell isn’t what this story of Jesus is all about, now is it?
For one thing, there's none of that “Sinner’s Prayer,” get “saved” stuff found in either this story or any of Jesus' stories.

Furthermore, if this story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus was about getting saved and so missing hell and making heaven, then the way to avoid hell and make heaven is, according to this story, is not found in any Sinner's Prayer or public confession.

Know how I know?

I've never heard a fundamentalist preacher say, “One of these days, you’re gonna’ be judged on the basis on how you treat the Lazarus' of this world. Better not overlook Lazarus or the first now will be last then!”

Nope, I can say, truthfully, I've never heard that version of the story preached by any fundamentalist preacher. Yet, it’s likely closer to the meaning of this story than anything they used to say.

But then, maybe this story is not about heaven and hell at all. Maybe it’s about something else altogether.

“What could that be?” you ask.

We get a hint in the latter part of the story when the rich bachelor pleads with Mother Mary to send someone back from the dead.  He seems convinced that, if there were some kind of miracle…something inexplicable…something so rare, like a “Beyond and Back” story…the story of someone dying and hovering over their body and then being revived…he seems sold on the idea that, if there was something so incredible, people would finally believe and change their ways!

But would they? That seems to be the point, doesn't it?

I think I'm hearing a different story in this story than the story I heard the preachers tell.
Maybe this is a story about how we listen. What we hear. Whether we see.
If, for example…
You do not hear the voice of God everywhere, how could you hear God's voice anywhere?
If you do not see a miracle in the budding of a flower, how would you see a miracle of going beyond, then back?
If you cannot see God in everything, how do you see God in anything?
Wasn’t it Meister Eckhart who said, “The eye through which I see God is the eye through which God sees me?”
In other words, God’s eye and my eye are one-and-the-same eye.
If you do not hear the cries of Lazarus in this world, then what do you hear?
If you do not know that you are Lazarus and you are the bachelor, too, then how could you possibly know who you really are?
If…through a story like the one Jesus told...you hear only about avoiding hell tomorrow, why be surprised to miss heaven today?
This is a story about hearing.
So, what do you hear?
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, thought leader and spiritual teacher. His books and blogs inspire spiritual seekers around the world. He is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, "I love all religions; but I'm IN LOVE with my own." Read more from Dr. McSwain on his blog Your Best Life Now