THERE WAS ONCE A RICH MAN
"'There was once a rich man, expensively dressed....wasting his days in conspicuous consumption....A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived on was...scraps off the rich man's table...Then he died, this poor man....The rich man also died....In hell and in torment, he looked up....He called out..."Send Lazarus..."...But Abraham said, 'Child, remember...'" Luke 16:19-31 (The Message).
A familiar story to Bible-readers, but what is the point of this parable? Hebrews read for identification. Who am I in the story? How often Jesus directed His stories at the Pharisees as a wake-up call! If God's word is a seed, then Jesus sowed lavishly into the ears of the religious leaders, but to no avail.
This is quite a shocking story for several reasons:
Firstly, it uncovers the heart of this rich man. Jesus had no issues with his being rich. In fact, the Apostle Paul stated categorically that Jesus Himself was rich. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV).
He had issues with what the rich man did with his riches. In this case, he spent it all on himself, not just on his needs, but on a sumptuous and lavish lifestyle that made him blind to the need of the poor man at his gate. A simple but graphic description of what was known as the 'yetzer harah' - the evil eye or the eye of darkness - the inward-looking eye that sees no-one but self.
Secondly, Jesus shows us the destiny of greedy and selfish people. Hell is not about God getting people back for not listening to Him. It's a consequence of a life squandered on self instead of fulfilling God's higher purpose. It was the garbage dump of the city where worthless stuff was burnt - a terrible tragedy and sorrow for the God who gave us the freedom to choose, knowing that that freedom could cost us our eternal destiny.
Thirdly, it smashed into the Hebrew philosophy that wealth was equal to God's blessing and poverty a curse on people who were out of favour with God. How could this rich man land up in hell if his wealth was a token of God's favour? This must have shocked both the Pharisees and the disciples. On one occasion, a rich man came to Jesus to ask what he needed to do to have the assurance of eternal life. Jesus told him to get rid of his wealth because it stood between him and following Him. The young man refused.
Jesus' comment puzzled His disciples. 'How difficult it is,' He said, 'for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' The disciples blurted out, 'Who, then, can be saved?' That was a shock to them. If rich people, who were supposed to be the blessed ones, could not enter the kingdom, what hope was there for the rest?
Jesus' story reveals something much deeper than wealth=blessing=salvation. It was not having wealth but what you did with it that revealed your heart. Wealth is a good servant but a terrible master. What we do with is it the measure of our love for God.
Fourthly, not even torment in hell changed the heart of this man. O yes, he thought about his brothers but only because he did not want them to experience the terrible end of a worthless life, which presupposed that they were living just as he had. But his attitude to the poor man had not changed. He still regarded him as less than himself. 'Send Lazarus,' he instructed Abraham, as though Lazarus were his servant to dispatch as he chose.
Jesus was not, for one moment, advocating good works as a way of salvation. His blood alone can forgive the guilt of our sin and cleanse us from all our unrighteousness, but He presupposed that our hearts will also be transformed so that we do not continue living self-indulgent lives. Generosity is a sure sign that our hearts and lives have been changed, If not, we need to re-evaluate so that we do not land up where the rich man did because he assumed....
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