BCP Trinity 1/ Year C Proper 21 : Luke 16:19-31.
19"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25"But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
27"He answered, `Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29"Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
30" `No, father Abraham,' he said, `but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
31"He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
In the ideal world there would be no poor. But we have a God of reality who cares for poor people and gives laws so that poor people would not be exploited. It is this principle that is behind the Jubilee 2,000 initiative to abolish Third World Debt.
The parable of Lazarus was told by Jesus to challenge the Pharisees. They were part of God's chosen people. They lived their lives according to strict rules. They studied the Old Testament. But Jesus exposes what is really important to them. He had just told them that they could not serve God and money. This parable challenges everyone who claims to follow God but don't put him and other people first.
This parable was not told against people who were considered rich in the sense that we might think of rich, like a multi-millionaire. But against people who were comfortable. Self-sufficient and not having to rely upon anyone else. Enjoying material pleasures. The rich man in the parable was well dressed and eats well.
Lazarus is a derivative of Eleazor which means 'God helps'. He was a beggar and probably crippled because he laid by the gate. He relied upon gifts, not himself or his riches. He longed for what would be discarded by the rich man. This would have included a finger towel that was used to wipe up bread and gravy and was usually thrown to the dogs.
He had sores, so was unhealthy. He would have been considered ceremonially unclean because he had been licked by street dogs who would have also licked animal corpses.
George Hoffman founded the Christian Relief Charity TEAR Fund. He visited Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. A Pastor there said to him, 'In your country you have God and things. Here we just have God'. In that country there is a total dependence and trust in God which is very rare in our affluent society.
Why do we think the rich man ended up in hell ? He failed to do what is right in God's eyes. He ignored Lazarus' plight, and ignored the O.T. Law. Why ? Too busy enjoying life, valued wealth too much, too busy, too insensitive ?
Hell is being without God. The rich man lived his earthly life ignoring God and God honoured that choice when the man died.
The rich man describes separation from God in verse 24 as being 'tormented'.
There is a reversal in roles here.
On earth the rich man is comfortable. Lazarus is in agony and asks for mercy.
In the next life Lazarus is comfortable. The rich man is agony and pleads for help. Is there a second chance to turn back to God after we die ? cf verse 26. Hebrews 9:27, 'man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement'.
We are more like the rich man.
We have seen that actions show what is important to someone. If someone lives a selfish life they will be separated from God forever. If someone relies upon God they will be with him for ever.
Jesus used this parable to challenge the complacency of the comfortable Pharisees. There is a challenge for each one of us today in the light of what we have seen :
Are we living too comfortably ? Are we helping the poor and needy ? Jim Wallis, an American Church leader wrote : "The question to be asked is not 'What should we give to the poor?' but, 'When will we stop taking from the poor?' The poor are not our problem; we are their problem."
There are many ways in which we can help the poor. By giving directly to organisations, such as TEAR Fund who administer relief to those in need. As a Church we support TEAR Fund each Harvest by passing on our offerings to them. We also give 10% of our income to various charities. We do this as a Church body, but we also need to do this individually.
We need to ask ourselves personally, 'What am I doing to help the poor and needy ?' What we do shows what is really important to us. How do we use our resources, out time, talents, money and possessions ? Does this show that we are putting God first ?
General Gordon served in China and declined both a title and a financial reward from the British government. He was eventually persuaded to accept a gold medal which became his most prized possession. After his death his executors were unable to find it anywhere. Only when they read his diaries were they able to discover what had happened to it. He had heard of a severe famine and sent the medal to be melted down and the proceeds given to the appeal. He had written in his diary ; 'The last earthly thing I had in this world that I valued I have given to the Lord Jesus Christ today.'
What are we prepared to give up for Jesus ?
Material comforts so that the starving eat, the blind see, the crippled healed ?
The comfort of our lifestyle so that we spend time with God and his people ?
Our reputation as we live and witness for him in a hostile world?
A world that needs to hear the good news of Jesus before it is too late.
May God give us his favour:
to choose what is right;
to share what we have;
to value what is good;
to follow where he leads;
to act while there is still time;
and to prepare for eternity with him.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit.