Now this is kind of a fun tale of riches and poverty, isn’t it? Sheez, Luke, let’s have some fun here with this lighthearted look into the Rich Man and Lazarus. I think we can be honest and say this is a hard story to hear. Abraham is with us speaking words of truth, the Rich Man has a pretty good life but ends up on the wrong side of the chasm, and Lazarus had a horrible life but ends up on the good side of a grand chasm. What should we make of THIS?
Let us begin by disabusing ourselves of any misunderstanding about the status of Lazarus. In v20 where it says “And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus” the Greek word for ‘lay’ is the same word used for ‘throw’. What that tells us is that Lazarus was a throwaway person, at least as far as the rich man in the story is concerned.
Why was Lazarus a throwaway person? Because it was common in those days to associate a person’s status with how moral they were. Good things happened to good people and they were successful, clearly receiving God’s blessings for being good. If that were true then it only stood to reason that if you were a bad person then bad things would happen to you, clearly having God’s blessings withheld. Clearly, the rich man had done good things and being a good thing person he had received many more. Clearly, Lazarus had done bad things and was thus a throwaway person.
Interestingly enough we talked a little about this at Beer Study and Bible Tasting last Sunday. We got to talking about the danger of what is known as the prosperity gospel. That’s the one that many TV type of preachers use to tell people that if they come to worship like they’re supposed to and they give enough money to the church like they’re supposed to then God will richly bless them with all the things that God wants them to have. Like a new house and a new car.
It will likely not surprise you when I say God is not concerned about your house or your car and has certainly not set the grand cosmos in motion for you to have new house or a new car based on your performance this past quarter. It’s definitely the case that there are benefits to coming to worship and being a generous person. If there weren’t I’m not sure I’d come every Sunday. But let’s be clear that those benefits come in the realm of removing your own barriers in your relationship with God rather than any tangible benefit you receive for services rendered.
Believing that God favors some and kicks others to the curb based on their actions is dangerous view of God and of ourselves. The reason that’s dangerous is all those people who have had bad things happen can believe that God has kicked them to the curb, or in the context of today’s reading, has thrown them into the doorway. It’s dangerous because it sets up a real Lazarus kind of moment for anyone who has had a bad time of it at some point in their life. That is not God’s approach to any of us.
And what about not letting him tell his brothers? Sounds kind of mean but I think it really comes down to showing us the reality that no one is coming back to tell us what we already know but ignore anyway. We’re not going to have a sign from any of the saints who have died and gone before us telling us to get our act together so that we don’t end up on the wrong side of the grand chasm. Their life when they were with us is their witness to us. Through the lives of the saints who have died and gone before us we already know what we’re supposed to be doing with our relationship with God right here and right now. We just too often ignore what we know.
When I was in the service we had weight and fitness requirements. Now, I was on active duty in the Air Force so we didn’t have MUCH in the way of weight and fitness requirements. Pretty much an annual weigh in and running a timed one mile run every year. Neither were particularly stringent but not so easy that you couldn’t ignore preparing for them either. Except for the majority of people who did. I’m not sure it was exactly funny but about 3 weeks prior to the annual testing a whole bunch of folks suddenly became distance runners on low fat diets when they realized they weren’t going to make weight or the run time.
The whole point of the idea of not being aware or prepared is not consigning you or your family to hell because you’ve thrown people into the street, though if you make a habit of throwing people into the street that’s something to give some thought to changing. The point being made here is not to take our faith life for granted. The Rich Man no doubt knew what he should have been about but instead let himself be taken off course by the way life was happening around him. The story doesn’t really give us the details but being rich and letting faith get sidetracked by all the things you can have and do isn’t exactly a new insight.
Which is precisely why we hear it from Jesus again and again. If we ask ourselves what is most important in our lives we’ll frequently respond off the cuff that our spouse or our kids, or perhaps more generally, our family. But then when we think about it long enough we’ll come around to the truth that we know God is the most important thing. We may not go there first but we’ll get there. If we follow up that question with what evidence is there that God is the most important thing in our life, how do we respond?
That’s the question to answer for this week. What barrier to my relationship with God can I work on this week? What scheduling thing gets my way? What work related thing gets in my way? What day to day habit gets in my way? When you come up with the answer, pray about it and see where the Holy Spirit leads you. Put the idea on a prayer card and send it in with the offering and we’ll all pray about it, too.
It’s not a question of salvation and heaven. Christ has died and been resurrected. We are the beneficiaries of that act. We no longer have to worry about ending up on the wrong side of the grand chasm. But… neither do we need to have that feeling that we’ve been set aside and thrown into the street. God is right there for us and with us. If we’ll just manage to get out of our own way.