The Sunday of the Rich Man and Lazarus – Luke 16:19-31Pr. Christopher Gillespie
02. June 2013
The Sunday of the Rich Man and Lazarus
The rich man in today’s Gospel, with all His purple linen, 1800-count Egyptian cotton, and daily seven-course feasts, was actually poor. In the eyes of His fellow man, rich. Before God, utterly poor. What does he lack for this life? Nothing. He has home, wife, children, land, animals, servants, food, and clothing. Thus, God loves Him right? He did all the right things and is in God’s favor? In the end, no. He suffers in Hades, where even a drop of water on the tip of the finger would be a joy. The richness of the man is immaterial to His salvation. But he doesn’t think so. His mathematics goes like this: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for my wealth tells me so.” Subtly, then, He has replaced God with wealth, salvation in Christ with salvation by earthly success.
The root of all his evil is not his wealth. The root of all his evil is his love of money. And herein lies the actual point of the parable. Wealth is morally neutral, that is, up until the point you get it. Once you’ve received it from the Father’s providence, a decision must be made: spend, save, or invest. But within this decision lies another: spend on me or my neighbor, save for me or for my neighbor, invest for me or in my neighbor. Those questions are not morally neutral. They lie at the heart of faith.
To store up wealth on earth for moth and rust and building bigger barns for it, is an act of unbelief. Let me explain. God has given you your wealth. He has “thrown” many poor Lazaruses in your path. Yet, you respond, “I can’t” which is another way of saying, “you didn’t give me the stuff and you didn’t make this man my neighbor.” At the core of this attitude is the mistaken notion of unbelief. Wealth when it is loved blinds our eyes and heart to the reality of our neighbor’s need. First, unbelief, then greed, and finally neglect of the neighbor.
To lack the conscious awareness of the goodness of God in Jesus Christ, who gave everything He had for you, is unbelief. Therefore, not knowing the God’s good gifts, the rich man cannot sympathize with his neighbor Lazarus. And secretly, the rich man is far from happy. Not knowing the freedom of Christ, he lives day to day fearing the last day. When he rises in the morning, he always says “Que Cera” and then lives like no one else. Underlying this luxurious life is the fear of the life to come.
On the other hand, faith gives to you this knowledge and trust that there is no greater good. Whatever God gives or does not in this life is according to His good and gracious pleasure. Only in faith could poor Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate, with dogs licking his sores. He had to suffer much including poverty and sickness. To the world he is despicable and unlovable.
But we know this is not true. While it may not look it, poor Lazarus was already rich in this life, even while suffering poverty and sickness. He had stored up treasures for heaven—faith that God would deliver Him unto heaven for the sake of Jesus. Thus, he suffered in patience, departed in peace, and remain blessed into the life to come. When this poor man died, he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. While he was utterly poor in this life, in the life to come he has riches beyond description. He trusted not in his wealth or even life, but in the Word of the Lord given by Moses and the Prophets. He heard of God’s abounding goodness in the promise of the Messiah and believed.
Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “the Church is always talking about money.” And by that they mean, “the Church is always asking for money.” But this is not why the church speaks of wealth so frequently. The reality is that the Scriptures speak negatively about money along with it all wealth, greed, envy, coveting, and theft from start to finish. Thus, we must speak with Jesus in like manner. Why? Because “money is the root of all evil?” No, not quite. The apostle Paul writes, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). When we love money we make it our god in place of the true God. The worst result of such a love is unbelief. He continues, “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith.”
Does that mean we should throw off all wealth and live lives of abject poverty as some monastic Christians have? Not necessarily. If you are not given into marriage and have no family to care for, perhaps then you can dedicate all your wealth for your neighbors in such a way. But if God has given you family and community, He also has given to you to love them and care for them with your wealth. What, then, is the appropriate approach to wealth? The apostle also writes, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
We are to use our wealth in service to our needs and to the needs of our neighbors. Luther says it this way, “Every man is created and born for the sake of others.” Who is your neighbor? The Pharisee asked Jesus the same question and Jesus responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable ends with the question, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10:36). The answer is simple: “The one who showed him mercy.”
We do not decide who Jesus places next to us. They may be male or female. They may white, black, yellow, or red. They may be rich or poor. They may smell great or revolting. They may be intelligent or they may be idiots. It matters not one wit. If you see someone in need, they are your neighbor. Everyone is your neighbor, even if he or she has hurt you or wronged you. Jesus extended neighborly love to all humanity. From the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).
Jesus does not restrict His death and resurrection to the lovely, the beautiful, the rich, or the famous. He also died for the unlovable, the ugly, the poor, and the despised. God the Father so loved the world. Those of up estate and lower “caste” are equally redeemed by God, forgiven in the shed blood of Jesus, and through faith, co-inheritors with Him of everlasting life. The whole notion of money and wealth is actually irrelevant to the whole salvation equation. God gives His Son who dies for your sins thus redeeming you from death and hell forever. It’s all God’s doing, of His goodness, without considering your status at all.
That’s not how our sinful heart works. It’s not the way the world works, either. Our society holds that those who are rich in temporal goods as blessed, and those who are poor as not blessed. God loves us by giving us that new job, the miracle credit card payment, the generous tax return, the big scholarship for our kid. Conversely, God must hate the one who remains jobless, who can’t get out from under debt, or who never qualifies for any relief. Even Christians fall into the prosperity trap, repeating errors like “God helps those who help themselves.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that God helps those who cannot help themselves. The reality is that there are goods which truly make us rich and therefore highly blessed that the eye cannot see or nor the bank hold. The reality is that God’s love is not shown principally in daily bread, which He gives regardless of faith. The reality is that God loves us by giving us Jesus for forgiveness, life after death, and the eternal feast of the Lamb. Our wealth or lack thereof is immaterial to the salvation equation. From God’s perspective, we are all beggars. Thus, we pray: “Not the labor of my hands Can fulfill Thy law’s demands … Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling.”
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church