There's something about gates in New Testament stories. Most cities were walled to protect against enemies. The walls had numerous gates, with roads going in different directions. But the main gate to the city was the place where court was held, where people brought grievances, and judgment was pronounced. The prophets accuse God's people of disregarding the poor at the gate; the poor were at the gate hoping for a measure of justice or compassion. When their concerns were ignored or magnified by those who might have helped them, God was angered.
Many a story and joke has been told about another gate - the "pearly gates" we usually call them. I have a cartoon on my door that shows a man standing before St. Peter at the gates to heaven. The man looks aghast as Peter says "you had it removed? Don't you know the human soul resides in the appendix?" A third man in the picture says "relax, he's just messing with you."
There are gated communities all around the city, places where non-residents have no access to the streets or the neighborhood. Some apartment complexes have gates that have to be opened with a code before one can drive in to park. And many people's homes have a fence with a gate around them to mark their territory and discourage strangers from approaching. These kinds of gates are primarily for safety; they keep unwanted people away.
In Luke 16:19-31 most of the action takes place by a gate. The gate leads to a wealthy person's house. The wealthy person comes and goes, each day, by way of that gate. On the inside of the gate is comfort, security, plenty. We are told that the wealthy person "feasts" every day. He leads the sort of life we desire.
Lazarus sits outside the gate. He is destitute: hungry, sick, homeless. Lazarus knows that inside the gate is "the good life;" he'll never live there, but maybe someone will bring him some scraps from the table, the food that usually goes in the trash. Day after day he waits, but he gets nothing.
Lazarus dies. The wealthy person also dies. This time instead of a gate there is an unbreachable gulf between the two. Father Abraham holds Lazarus close, consoling him. The wealthy man sweats and burns in the fires of hell, but he sees Lazarus sitting in God's realm. "Send Lazarus to fetch me a drink," he calls, "I've a raging thirst down here." How ironic that the person who would not cross the gate to give Lazarus his table scraps, now expects Lazarus to bring him a drink. The story tells us that, for the wealthy man, it is too late. Whereas in life, the gate was a place of passage - a person could go from one side to the other with water or food - in death the gulf between the blessed and the cursed is permanent.
We live in the wealthiest nation in the world. 80 percent of the population sits at American's gate hoping for something to eat. Poverty is rising here in American, as well, especially among African-American and Hispanic people. (See: http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/US-Poverty-Rate-Highest-in-15-Years-103060399.html ) We might not think of ourselves as wealthy, but to those without work, without money, without food we are rich indeed. Wealth - even moderate wealth - is a responsibility. What will we do with those outside our gate?
There are plenty of agencies that address hunger in the world. Lutheran World Hunger Relief is an excellent organization; all donations go directly to help the hungry. Giving money to such agencies is one good response. But there are also things we can do locally. Here at Shepherd King Lutheran we are having our annual Sausage Supper on Friday, October 8th. Tickets are $6.50 and we are encouraging members when they buy a ticket for themselves to buy another for someone who needs a meal. We will gather a list of people in our community who are struggling and will bring them a sausage supper plate from the donated tickets so that when we are feasting our neighbors won't go hungry.
Open the gate. See the neighbor who sits and waits for a morsel to eat. Remember the world outside your door, outside our nation's door, and honor God by finding ways to share your wealth with "Lazarus."