19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 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.’ 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. 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.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 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.’” (Luke 16:19-31)
“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 and Lazarus, it is a haunting parable. It is quite effective. I doubt that there is a person who reads it and isn’t cut to the quick. We begin to wonder how we have used our own wealth. Whether or not we have used it in a loving manner towards our neighbor, people like Lazarus. In Jesus day, the scene would not have been that shocking. There are places in this world where you can still see this sort of thing taking place. Poor beggars on the street having their wounds and sores licked by half wild dogs running amok in the street, whilst the rich make their way from palace to palace in sports cars costing more than most of us paid for our homes. Where the rich are rich, and the poor are poor. Concern for the poor was hardly on anyone’s radar when Jesus walked about Israel.
The rich thought they were rich because God had bestowed upon him his blessing. That was just the way it was. The poor were suffering God’s wrath and punishment. That was just the way it was. To have sympathy for a man like Lazarus, was then not considered a good work. To do that was to undercut God’s judgment. This was the sort of thought people had. I’m not always sure it has left us. I think it is almost a defense mechanism for us. We want to enjoy what we have, the gifts we have been given, as well we should. And the sight of a man with a cardboard sign asking for handouts causes us to feel a twinge of guilt. Oh it doesn’t always manifest itself that way. Sometimes it causes anger, suspicion, condescension and ridicule. There are in fact many safety nets in place in our society where we find such behavior unnecessary. I’ll admit, I very rarely give any of those people anything. I once stopped and talked to one of those guys. It was enlightening. I don’t think he drove off in a Limo or anything, but he made me think a guy could make a living off of it, and that the duplicity of his situation was one in which what he was doing was theft, more properly fraud. I’m not sure they are all the same. Lazarus would not have been found in their ranks.
We don’t know his story. It is not relevant to the story. What we have is Jesus turning things on their head. The rich are not secure. Neither are the poor by the way. One no more gets to heaven by being poor than one does by being rich. But in heaven all will enjoy God’s blessing even in such things as food, wine, house and home. Whether they were rich on earth or poor on earth, what we suffer today in this world only prepares us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. 2 Cor. 4:17. It has been my experience that no one in this world is immune to suffering. Rich or poor. And there are times I think you couldn’t pay me enough to take on that headache. But these are momentary afflictions. This world is a momentary affliction. Oh it’s real, and it is painful at times. Sometimes quite enjoyable too. But it is momentary. It ends. There is another life coming and another world waiting in which we will enjoy the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. And it matters not what our station in this life was. What matters is if we heard and heeded God’s word, if we put our faith in Jesus and his death on the cross, if we lived a life of faith, which is a life of repentance.
See this is what the Rich man did not do. He took God for granted. He did not see his neighbors as fellow sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. He did not see his fellow man as children of God to be loved and cherished, respected and forgiven even as God loved him, cherished him, respected him and forgave him. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is what we pray every day, morning and evening, at the bedside of our children, next to the deathbed of our parents. And what we ask in this petition is that we are not only forgiven our sins, but that we would learn to forgive others in our lives. Some of this means looking past our neighbors shortcomings and failings, their sin and so forth. Believe me, in trying to get along in this world, they have to overlook a lot of things in you too. Love just isn’t possible without forgiveness, which is why God who is love forgives you on account of his Son who loved you with his own life.
See this is where Abraham fits into this story. He is in contrast to the rich man who despised Lazarus. Abraham was a rich man. But he lived his life in faith, and in repentance. Oh he was a sinner for sure. His faith wasn’t always very strong. Twice his faith was so weak that he pimped his half sister wife Sarah rather than face the possibility of death. God had to forgive quite a few sins in his life too. Yet Abraham believed in God, he listened to the prophets of old, men like Seth and Noah. And when God asked him to pick up and move, he did. He let his nephew choose the choicest land. He gave ten percent of his plunder to God when he attained victory over the four kings. And when asked to sacrifice his own son, he went ahead knowing that God would keep his promises, that there would be a resurrection. And with every affliction this world sent him he grew stronger in the faith, seeing time after time how God used everything for good for those who love him.