New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
I serve as an elementary principal in a school where the majority of the students qualify for free or reduced meals. They eat breakfast and lunch at school and for many of them, those meals are their only meals during the week. Our students are homeless, come from broken families, worry about their safety and have disadvantages which make their times tables, reading on grade level and concepts in science and social studies very, very challenging to learn. For the most part, their families are doing all they can to support their children in school and none of them would ever purposely choose this life of extreme poverty for themselves or their children. Many people in our society look at these families and make judgements about their lack of worth ethic (they should just get a job like the rest of us and stop taking from society) while driving by on the way to their safe homes and warm dinners with their families. I’m not opening the door to debate about social justice issues, but I can’t help but think about those students I serve who didn’t choose to be born into their very challenging circumstances.
Lazarus lived one heck of a hard life in his day as well. His name literally means “God has helped,” and this story tells how great was his reward as compared to the man who lived a “wealthy” life separated from a relationship with Christ. There isn’t anything in this parable or the verses leading up to it about the relationship Lazarus may have had with Christ (this is not the same Lazarus as the brother of Mary and Martha who Jesus describes as his friend), but I think the name has some real significance. The rich man in this story is described as a person who didn’t want for much in the way of material goods. Lazarus begged outside his house and it is implied that he received nothing in the way of help from this wealthy man. But our God takes mercy on the least of us (Matthew 5 spells this out in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”) and Lazarus is given his gift of eternal life. His suffering is now over. But the rich man whom we can assume did not help the least among us when he was alive is not offered the same rewards in death. He realizes quickly how the comfort of his earthly life, without regard for the rest of humanity, has left him with regrets. He begs for some interventions for his family still living, even suggesting a “raised from the dead” experience for them to get their attention.
This story isn’t about rich people going to hell for being rich and poor people going to heaven because they were poor during their lifetime. Don’t apologize if you are able to live a life with luxuries. Don’t choose poverty to get eternal life. It’s not that simple, friends. Instead, this is a “knock on the head,” parable and learning opportunity. Jesus is clear – we need to be ready to serve when service is required. We need to love on another as he loves us. We must draw near to Christ rather than allow sin to drive us away. And let’s be honest; there isn’t much ambiguity in the directives. When we sit in our nice houses and ignore suffering, or miss out on showing Christ in all we do, we are CHOOSING to ignore the truth. The truth is uncomfortable and off-putting, but that doesn’t make it less truthful.
The students I serve deserve to have the same needs met that I do. They deserve the freedom to choose a life outside of poverty because they were given options through education, outreach and love. They also will receive the gift of grace and everlasting life through Jesus Christ. What will it take for the rest of us to reach out to them and others in need?
Merciful Father, there is no greater love than the love you have for your children, sending your son to die for our sins. We want to serve you in all we say and do. Help us to love the least of those among us, especially those who cannot help themselves. We want to live our lives with you and have no regrets when we are united perfectly with you. It is in your gracious name we pray. AMEN.