Read Luke 16 here or click on the icon below to listen to it.
Jesus begins with a hard to understand parable of a dishonest manager. He summarizes His point telling the disciples that one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much; likewise, the one who is dishonest in very little is dishonest in much. If we can’t be faithful with what little we have, how can we expect to be faithful with more? Jesus says no one can serve two masters. We can only be devoted to one. We can’t serve God and money. And it isn’t always money that competes for our devotion and attention, but He knows it is a BIG one. The Pharisees, who should have been the picture of righteous and holy living, are lovers of money and this message digs deep. He explains further with a story about a rich man and a poor man that camped outside his gate.
What if there is something right in front of you that you may be missing? Something that if you miss will leave you not only with sadness and regret, but eternal and excruciating suffering. Would you change course? Would you encourage your loved ones to do the same?
While it is a gift to be given a grace period – time to reflect and change course -- and not always inflicted with immediate consequences for our mistakes (or outright and intentional wrongdoings), it can leave us complacent; with a sense that they aren’t really that big of a deal. It can make us falsely believe those consequences will never come; that we will always have more time.
In the single parable where a character is named, Jesus essentially pleads with us to not get complacent. This is personal.
We are introduced to an unnamed rich man. He lives comfortably. He dresses stylishly. He is never without a good meal. This man isn’t named, but if we are honest, we could be this man. We may not feel rich, but in the view of the world’s population, if we have clothes, meals and a place to live, we are rich. This is personal.
Next, we meet Lazarus. He has nothing. He is ill, covered in sores left unattended over many years of suffering. He is poor, hungry, hoping for mere scraps as he sits at the gates of the rich man’s home. We know this person too. We see him all around us, even when we try to avoid him.
Both men die.
From the torment of hell, the rich man looks up and sees someone standing with Abraham. He looks familiar but different. He looks like the man that was always outside his home. But it couldn’t be. He looks healthy, clean, happy, peaceful. But it’s him; it is Lazarus, the man that constantly begged at the gates of his home.
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me. 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 desperately cries out.
“Child, remember that you in your lifetime received good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish,” Abraham replies compassionately, but directly.
Perhaps the rich man thinks back to words he heard but never took to heart. Words like…
“Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” (Proverbs 28:27)… “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42) …“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11) …“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)…“Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13)… "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
The rich man’s thoughts are interrupted as Abraham continues, “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.”
The rich man is flooded with emotions, his life flashing before his eyes. He missed it. He heard the warnings, but he didn’t HEAR the warnings. “What if…,” he thinks as he trembles with fear and anxiety over the reality of an eternal future in this hell hole.
“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,” the rich man pleads. If I can’t save myself, maybe I can save my family, he thinks.
“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them,” Abraham responds.
“No, father Abraham…,” the rich man cries. He knows he had the same and did nothing to change.
“…but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent,” the rich man continues.
“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead,” Abraham says. Jesus came from the dead, and still many refuse to believe.
This is a HARD story to read. The reality of an eternity of damnation. The reality of a time when our actions can no longer be reversed.
And we all know that we can’t save ourselves…it is only faith in the work of the blood and resurrection of Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we do nothing. Our faith, our gratitude for the salvation paid for us, should produce good works. There are things we are compelled to do when we recognize what was done freely for us. We can never say we were never told these things.
It isn’t money, riches, resources that save us, but it is these things that are the most likely to trip us up. Let’s not learn our lesson too late. Let’s not try to reach our loved ones too late.
God, I pray that we take Your words to heart and never become complacent in Your grace and mercy. In your power alone, we cry out for help.
Where do you see yourself in the story of Lazarus? Where do you see Jesus?