“As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.” (Luke 16:21 NLT)
Increasingly, in America, there is a shrinking “middle class,” while poverty and homelessness increase their ranks. Like the rich man in Jesus’ parable, we’re so accustomed to seeing someone begging at a traffic light or outside a store, we often look right through them.
We’re not told how long Lazarus laid at the rich man’s gate, but it’s evident that the rich man was oblivious to his obvious needs. How like the rich man I am in many ways, as I ignore those who have so many needs, or do I?
While pastoring a church in a transitioning neighborhood, I grew accustomed to having three to five people coming to the church each day begging, mostly for money. At first, my heart broke and I often gave them $10 or $20 to “help” them.
What I learned over time was I didn’t “help,” I enabled. As I began to recognize the same people coming back, I felt sick that I’d let so many people take advantage of my generosity. So, I made a decision. With rare exception I stopped dolling out money and started listening more closely to their stories. I prayed for and with them, seeking to find ways to get to know them.
There was a young man in our church who volunteered to contact local resources who needed workers or had apartments or rooms for rent at a very reasonable rate. But rather than jumping at the chance to have a roof over their head, many turned away because the places weren’t nice enough. Now I give through my church to equip our ministry to actually help people who want to be helped.
What’s my point? When I stopped putting Band-Aids on the people’s “cancer,” the Lord began to show me that poverty isn’t so much a matter of not having enough money or food, it’s often a matter of how people think, how they see themselves. It becomes an endless, generational cycle of defeat in which people become trapped by their wrong views of themselves and others.
It seems ironic on some levels that Jesus’ point in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus didn’t focus on money or provision for Lazarus. It wasn’t a condemnation of the rich in favor of exalting the poor. All rich people aren’t going to hell and all poor people aren’t going to heaven. It instead emphasized the subtle nature of sin and a false sense of security those who have money often trade for a right relationship with God.
The tragedy of this story is the rich man didn’t realize his need of God before it was eternally too late. Not only did he miss an opportunity to address the concerns of a very needy man, but he also ignored his own desperate need of a relationship with God. His need of Jesus wasn’t realized until death’s final call.
Implicit in the parable is the recognition that Lazarus apparently had a relationship with God, illustrated by his being ushered into the presence of Abraham. What was the point of the parable? To me it was two-fold. First, being rich may make things easier in this life, but it gives no guarantee of a home in heaven. And, secondly, being poor doesn’t automatically mean we have a right relationship with God.
Rich or poor, we will all one day stand before the Commander in Chief of all creation to give an account of our lives. And the key to understanding this parable is realizing that death is the final act of life. We will all one day die and if we haven’t decided to follow Jesus before that day, there are no second chances. If we’re ever going to warn our family about the torments of hell, it needs to be now, before death knocks on our door or theirs.
Death is so final!
Food for thought!