Martha always looked forward to going to the market each week with her parents. It was a whole mix of noise, bustling around and catching up with the latest news or products.
What would the stall holders have spread over their tables? What haggling games would she hear today? That was always hard to predict, but the theatrics were not to be missed as customers’ offers inevitably rose towards an eventual intersection with the reluctant descent of the traders’ prices.
Customers would claim to be so poor that they could hardly pay attention. Traders would draw from their own verbal arsenals of all the costs they had to hurdle just to get their goods on display. To hear all of these protests was always cheap entertainment, and anyone else within earshot would quickly gravitate to the liveliest exchanges, so they could join the chorus of laughs, gasps and cheers. But at the end of the day, the traders are all sold out.
This week the lanes that led to the market square were empty, and everything seemed strangely still. Have we somehow got the wrong day? Martha wondered.
No, there were more people than normal, but nobody was checking on stalls or prices. They were clustered around a man who was squatting on his haunches.
“It’s that storyteller!” said Martha’s mother. “He is getting quite a reputation, so let’s listen in.”
As her mother relaxed her grip, Martha slipped through to the front of the crowd, where she found many other children, all entranced by the storyteller’s warmth and the twinkle in his eye. And another story starts…
“Imagine a tycoon. He’s got it all: finest clothes; great food; a mansion to live in; and more money than he could ever count! (the crowd murmurs its approval, for this man is obviously blessed by God!)
“Outside his gate a tramp sits in squalor; while mangy, flea-bitten dogs lick his sores. He is dreaming of decent food – or even scraps from the tycoon’s table. This is his daily routine; but let’s call him ‘Lazarus!’”
Martha feels the murmurs suddenly surging around her…
“Is he crazy? Lazarus means ‘God has helped!’”
“Why waste a good name like Lazarus on a beggar?”
“We all know that wealth shows God’s favour!”
“But this tycoon ignores any favours from God,” the man calmly continues, “he ignores Lazarus’ misery just outside his gate; and he never even notices the poor beggar’s death. Until he also dies - and finds himself being tormented in hell!
“Suddenly, he sees Lazarus enjoying five-star treatment in heaven with our father Abraham - finally living up to his name. He asks about Lazarus coming to ease his thirst; but the gulf between them is too great.
“Abraham tells him that, having since he has only ever sold himself out to his own comfort, it is now Lazarus’ time to be blessed.
“When he realises that his five brothers could join him in hell, he asks Abraham if Lazarus could go back to warn them about the eternal torment! Abraham reminds him that Moses and the prophets have enough to say to them.
“’But father Abraham,’ he protests, ‘they would repent if someone went back to them from the dead!’
“If he did not notice Lazarus outside his own gate,” muttered a man behind Martha, “how would his brothers recognise Lazarus?” Martha did not know about that, but she saw the twinkle in the storyteller’s eye soften with a touch of sadness as he wrapped up his story.
“’No,’ Abraham replied, ‘if they won’t hear Moses or the prophets, they will not take any notice of anyone coming back from the dead.”
The crowd mostly dispersed, for bargains were waiting, but some people stayed around to speak with this storyteller.
After Martha and her family left the market, they kept up to date with this storyteller.
They were shocked to later learn of his death; but when they learned of his resurrection they realised that he had sold himself out for the whole world. And their faith in him was far less about avoiding going to hell when they died, but in living the right way: in gratitude and in generosity as they responded by selling out to him.
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