Around Christmas time every year we get a flurry of Christmas stories on TV that purport to tell us what moral values the feast day promotes. One of the stories that is frequently presented is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. You know the plot. Scrooge is a stingy and selfish person who is more concerned about making money than by expressing concern for people.
On Christmas Eve he refuses to give the holiday day off to his employees because there will be money to be made on Christmas. Then that night he has a strange dream. Jacob Marley, one of his predecessors, comes to him bound in chains and tells Scrooge to change his oppressive ways before it is too late. The rest of the dream only reinforces that notion that “after death there is a reversal of fortunes.”
The Gospel account in Luke (Luke 16:19-31) is somewhat similar. In Jesus’ parable, there is a rich man who culpably ignores the needs of Lazarus, a poor, sick wretch who has nothing to eat; while the rich man, within the poor man’s view, eats sumptuously and offers him nothing. Then both men die, and we see the aim of the parable, namely, “After death there is a reversal of fortune.”
What does the comparison mean? The theme “After death there is a reversal of fortune” was based on choice. Scrooge chose one way and the rich man in Jesus’ parable chose another. Scrooge chose to take his dream seriously, so while alive he became considerate of others. The rich man of the parable did not make his choice while alive, and only became aware of his misdeeds after death.
For example. After death, Lazarus went to heaven and the rich man to hell–a reversal of fortune. There is a dialogue between the rich man and Abraham who was spokesperson for Lazarus. The rich man asks for water “to quench the fire,” but this is denied him. Then the rich man asks that someone from the dead be sent to his five brothers, who are now living as he was. Abraham says solemnly, “They have Moses and the prophets. If your brothers don’t believe them, how are they going to believe someone from the dead?”
Consequently, the matter is present choice which will determine future status. Do I choose what Jesus tells me in terms of treating others–with justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding? Or not? Scrooge’s dream opened up the inner voice of conscience and so was able to treat others kindly and with compassion. This was while he was still alive. He chose well. He learned his lesson, and I think we should learn ours as well.