Luke 16:19-31: Rich Man and Poor Man

 

The Pharisees and scribes slander Jesus as they glance askew at Him embracing untouchables and eating with them. So, He speaks His parables: of sheep, coin, son, and manager, of lost and found, of dishonesty and cunning. Oh, He tells His tales in such a way, so they should glean and learn, not fixate and spurn. This Rabbi finishes—you cannot love both God and money. Yet, they ridicule Him more. For beneath their pretense, they became prey to their greed.

In this faraway place, many presuppose plenty and poverty should dwell together. So, they don’t bother themselves, trying to change their surrounding circumstances. The moneyed live in luxury, the poor in squalor. The impoverished anguish in their hovels, the high-born abide in their mansions, as distant as heaven and hell. So these Pharisees strutted, wrapped up in themselves.

Out comes another parable. Still, let’s not be rash inside our first hearing, misconstruing or mistaking whatever this wealthy property owner doesn’t do. Does he kick Lazarus or brutalize him? No, neither does he command him to leave or sneer at others to deny him bread. Don’t miss this—he isn’t so much ignoring Lazarus as not noticing him. The outcast at the outskirts of his entrance dwindled into mere grass along the road, part of the bumpy terrain.

Little does this monied master believe or respond in faith, misunderstanding his net worth for his self-worth. The offense is troubling, not from this estate owner injuring or harming Lazarus, but by doing nothing. Oblivious and indifferent to the beggar’s call, he’ll overlook Lazarus, leaving him alone to die.

Does love not give more than receive, then pluck and seize? In his heartless landscape, he lifts no finger for his fellow man. Reckless as the wind across unfettered plains, his lack of caring lays bare a heart lonely of God.

Vast is the breach between the flourishing proprietor in his mansion and the suffering beggar beside his gate. Purple robes adorn this elite lord, distinguished garments which but secret his darkness. Careless and untouched, he sorrows not the agony of poverty. A creature of most importance, he imagines. Yet, his soul is bare as he spends his money on appearances.

Weep for the other, Lazarus, this filthy pariah, sick with pain from ulcerations and pustules. Helpless and feeble, diseased and crippled, he hunches at the entryway. Though “hunch” is too gentle a word: dumped, ditched, being nearer to the truth. Without clean clothes or medicine, he hopes in someone to help, lest he die with no one to care or cry. So, he yearns, longing not for the dryness of dirt and dust but fat, strip, or spoil from the pan.

Yet, Lazarus’ difficulties deepen and worsen. Feral dogs approach and lick his seeping sores where wounds are festering, requiring relief. No Salukis with elegant grace or soft puppies with wet, black noses: only mongrels and curs of animal breeding. No round-bellied house pets here but scavengers hungry for food.

To each person comes his beginning and end. Every mortal being meets his hour when the grave summons, shrouded in its midnight arrival. Soon, this creation’s fallen soil will beckon us back, mere fodder beneath another’s boot. So, Adam’s curse falls upon Lazarus and, of course, the affluent landholder, too.

Only in death do they part, one soaring into eternity’s heights, the other plummets into the foreboding abyss. At once, angels escort Lazarus to feast with no less than the Patriarch Abraham himself. Home in heaven, he sits in a place of honor. The man of money? Not only is he excluded from heaven’s grandeur, but he’s in extreme agony, surpassing whatever Lazarus suffered.

Both claim to be God’s beloved children. One perishes, forgotten by others, receiving heavenly riches and splendor. The other dies, whom a few remember for a short while, experiencing a torment beyond words. Earlier, each became the other’s reverse. So they stayed after death.

Here, a man regaled in wealth as a respected offspring of Abraham. Upon him, God garnered physical and material blessings in abundance. Yet, he found his life frail, delicate, and brief. Arrogant, he bounded into eternity, smug in his righteousness, which always fails. The Almighty’s unveiled and glorious presence, whose light pervades infinity, turned for him into a measureless torture and hell.

No pomp or circumstance attended Lazarus’ birth, nor did he arrive in a royal palace or inherit a wealthy estate. Fancy foods didn’t tantalize his tongue. The touch of silk never softened his skin. Begat as a pauper, he dies the same—meager of means, with little to recommend him but hope. At death’s dark door, he exhaled his last in want, misery, and outcast from society.

The literal meaning of “Lazarus” is “God is my help,” and such did he receive. Oh, not from silver or gold, but from the Giver Himself. Snatched from the belly of the satanic beast, fierce angelic hands carry him into God’s and Abraham’s presence. Never by his strength, mind you, but by God.

Though Lazarus lived with nothing in life, he gained everything in death. The once envied mogul lifted his eyes and now envies the beggar, whom he and the world forgot. So pining is his rattle for mercy. Bone-dry, he begs for a smear of water to evaporate his thirst. Once merciless toward Lazarus, now he wants what he earlier forsook. Yet Abraham tells of the unbridgeable chasm between them, which no mere mortal may cross.

After realizing he can’t free himself, this once-wealthy man pleads more and demands. Keen to his predicament, he groans in anguish, not for himself, but for his family. “Send somebody, anyone, to keep them from following me into this horrific place.” Now Abraham speaks. “Your brothers have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them.”

“No, they aren’t enough! Though if someone haunted them from the dead and told them, they’ll repent.” This man is brazen, straining to school Abraham on eternal matters.

From birth, his mother sang of her God while she rocked him to sleep. Every week, he journeyed to the synagogue. Oh, the epic histories and poetry of sacred Scripture once moved him. Many hours he spent memorizing those fiery passages, which brought him to tears. Didn’t his father send him forth into the world with a generous goodbye and prayers for God’s protection? Now he’s in hell.

Once this man received the Word, shaped by its potent touch. Yet as a fallen seed among thorns, he drifted unheeded. In time’s passing, life’s worries, wealth, and pleasures choked out his faith. So sad, his fire of devotion withered into nothingness, his heart no longer pulsing for God. Only the fires spawned from his sinfulness consumed him.

Though a son of Israel, he didn’t stir with Abraham’s faith. Do the Scriptures not teach us to love God, including our neighbor? Yet the rich man loved only himself. Now, he suffers the consequences of his selfish affections.

In His Word, God unmasks the selfishness of our lives—and the selflessness of His Son. Ponder Jesus, who squandered not money, but Himself on the cross, for us, His beloved. Only He unfolds our divine redemption by His life, death, and resurrection, redeeming us into new creations. Rich, He became poor to make us prosperous in His salvation. Through faith, His given gift, we are the nobler, brought into eternal fellowship with the Father.

No, we need more! For if someone rises from the dead, they’ll reconsider and repent. Will they? Did he? Not those moneyed brothers—though Lazarus leap from the tomb. Neither do many believe the triumphant testimony of Jesus in His resurrection. Yet, this earth can show nothing more magnificent.

Let these ancient utterings not grow silent, for faith and trust is what God’s prophets and Moses proclaim. Genuine belief trusts not only in God, but in His mercy. Destitute, He perceived us, lacking food and clothing. Sick and diseased, we lay dying in the squalor of our sin. So, incarnate Compassion came near, our sins to share. Oh, this richest Son of heaven didn’t close His eyes toward us. No, He switches places with us, becoming poor, so we might become rich in His eternal restoration.

Holy Writ—Moses, the Psalms, and Prophets—prophesied what God will do. Today, God blesses us with more than the Old Testament, for He includes the New. Not only the promise but fulfillment—the Almighty’s power for our deliverance. In Christ, salvation’s potential and possibility: realized and fulfilled.

The same strong Word becomes present and tangible now. Here, He forgives and releases us from the damning weight of our iniquities. Pardoned from the swirling whirlpool of our wrongs, Jesus manifests to us the light of God’s Love. In His cleansing words, He clothes us in righteous garments and warms us with His everlasting grace. So sweet are the sounds of our forgiving God, ensuring a place awaits, with Abraham in His heavenly halls.

Yes, God gives us Himself—to rescue us from our own rich man’s self-centeredness. He transforms you and me into His servants. No, into more, born from above as His sons and daughters. Now, we move through the world with hopeful steps, touched by the divine, no longer treading upon the needy. So walk with them, availing God’s gifts for the well-being of others.

By faith, we rise with Lazarus unto life anew, radiant in the risen and ascended Christ. Summoned forth on the Last Day, we’ll burst from our tombs. Whatever glowered in gloom blossoms white through our Savior’s blood, making everything right. Do not dismay, my brothers and sisters: your redemption draws nigh. Amen.

 

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