Posts Tagged ‘wealth and poverty’

Today I want us to hear a story from Jesus, the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31. It’s a familiar story, but one that continues to present a real challenge to us.

Let’s jump right in. We begin with a contrast between –

Two very different lives

v. 19 – “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.”

This man had the best clothes of the day. And purple was the color of royalty so he had some serious social status. Also, he ate the best food, and lots of it. He feasted not just once in a while, but every day.

So he dressed like a king and ate like a king. His was an extravagant lifestyle. And he was unapologetically self-indulgent – sparing no expense for himself.

vs. 20-21 – “And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.”

That he was “laid” at the gate most likely means he couldn’t walk; he was disabled. The gate was not the front door, but an outer gate to the grounds of the rich man’s mansion. And he was put there to beg in hopes of finding help.

His clothing is not mentioned, but he is covered in ulcerated sores which are very painful. So he is disabled and sick. And he had no food, not even bad food – the scraps that fell off the rich man’s table; the rich man’s garbage.

v. 21 – “Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

He was even below the dogs on the social scale, and they weren’t beloved, like they are today. They stood over him and licked his sores.

There couldn’t be more of a contrast here. The rich man lived the high life. Lazarus had a terribly difficult life. He was as low as you can be. As v. 25 below says, the rich man had “good things” and Lazarus had “bad things.”

But then there is –

A great reversal

v. 22-23 – “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.”

First, a word about Hades. This is not hell (or Gehenna). Some translations say “hell” but this isn’t correct. Hades is the realm of the dead, where all wait for the final judgment. It is called “Sheol,” or “the Pit” in the Old Testament. Hell, on the other hand, is the eternal fire that awaits the unrighteous after the final judgment. No one is currently in hell. This is a popular misconception.

There is not much, if anything, about Hades being a place of punishment or reward in the O.T. But in some Jewish traditions at this time it was beginning to be seen as a place where you already get a taste of what awaits you in the final judgment. This is the case here.

Also, a word about Abraham’s “bosom,” or Abraham’s “side.” This is also called “paradise.” It’s the part of Hades where the righteous dead go. After Jesus’ resurrection, however, these are taken up to heaven to await the final day. Just some background.

The point here, however, is that in the afterlife their situations are reversed. They have traded places, as it were.

And again, there could not be more of a contrast:

  • The rich man is in “torment” (vs. 23, 28) and “anguish” (v. 25) connected to “this flame” (v. 24).
  • Lazarus is “carried by the angels” (v. 22) to “Abraham’s side” (v. 22) where he is “comforted” (v. 25).

As you can see, this story is an example of Jesus’ words in Luke 6. v. 20 – “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Lazarus is blessed while waiting for this inheritance. v. 24 – “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” The rich man received his good things already on earth.

Next, we have the –

The rich man’s two requests

– and the two lessons that Abraham teaches him.

1. Send Lazarus to give me water.

v. 24 – “And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’”

The rich man asks for “mercy.” He wants some relief from his suffering through Lazarus, even though he gave Lazarus no relief for his suffering when the roles were reversed on earth.

And there is a wordplay here, because the word for “alms” or giving to the poor, comes from the word for mercy in Greek.

We also see here that the rich man knows Lazarus’ name. So there is no doubt that he knew him; he saw his suffering; saw his hunger – and yet never helped.

v. 25 – “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.’”

Abraham is saying, you already had your good things, and you kept it all for yourself. But now it’s too late! Now things are reversed. They are irreversibly reversed.

v. 26 – “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”

Again, Abraham is saying, it’s too late. God won’t allow it. God has placed a great chasm or canyon that can’t be bridged.

Abraham’s point is that after death it’s too late to change your situation. And so the lesson for us, those who hear this story, is that now is the time to love and help your neighbor! Now, while we live on this earth. And if you are not doing this, now is the time to repent; to have a change of heart and behavior.

And this certainly applies beyond the issue of how people use their wealth. Now is the time to do God’s will, in every part of your life.

2. Send Lazarus to warn my brothers.

vs. 27-31 – “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

The rich man asks for special treatment for his family, a warning beyond listening to the Scriptures about helping the poor.

What do Moses and the prophets say about this? Here is just a very small sample:

  • Leviticus 23:22, talking about gleaning, says, “leave [some of your harvest/food] for the poor and the foreigners living among you . . ..” (NLT)
  • Isaiah 58:7 – “. . . share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked . . . cover him . . .”
  • Proverbs 21:13 – “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.”

The rich man didn’t listen to this, and he doesn’t show much confidence that his brothers would listen either. So he wants more; a miracle; a messenger from the realm of the dead.

But Abraham teaches him that if you refuse the light you have – getting more won’t help. If you won’t listen to what God has already said in Scripture, you won’t listen to what God might say through a person from the dead.

The point we are to take home as those who hear this story is this – listen to the Scriptures! Listen! They are more than adequate to teach us and warn us and to show us God’s way.

Let me end with some thoughts on –

What the rich man should have done

And this is important because most of us are rich, and so it teaches us very specifically what we should do. This story is one of extremes for sure, someone who is really rich and someone who is really poor. But this doesn’t let us off the hook. You know the game we play, “as long as I know someone richer than me, I’m not really rich.”

But biblically, the rich are those who have more than they need (Luke 12:16-21). I have more than I need. Do you?

And when you have more than you need the moral question is raised, “What should I do with the surplus?” – the abundance that God has given me.

The rich man used it for his own self-indulgence – for his comforts, the best clothing and the best food and in great excess. He did not use it to help the poor and needy. So, learning from his negative example here, we are not to use it for our self-indulgence, but to help those who are poor and needy.

What will you do with the surplus that God has given you? Use it to bless those in need! That is why God gave it to you.

Wealth can be a curse or a blessing. It’s a curse when we keep it for ourselves because then we will share the fate of the rich man. But it’s a blessing when we share it, as God intended. For then we will have eternal rewards (Luke 14:13-14). It can be a curse or a blessing. It all depends on what you do with it.

So what will you do? Hear my exhortation sisters and brothers. Stop using the surplus to multiply comfort upon comfort for yourselves. How many luxuries do you have to have? There is no end to the human craving for more. So stop! Stop giving in to greed. Rather, be generous with the poor and needy. This is the point of the story. Be generous with the poor and needy.

And let’s remember Abraham’s lessons:

1) Now is the time to do this, before it’s too late. 2) Heed this teaching of the Scriptures. Don’t wait around for someone to come from the dead to tell you to do this, or for a mountain to shake or for a voice from heaven. Use the light God has given you, and put it into practice.

 May we see and respond to the one whom God lays at our gate this week.

William Higgins

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