The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31

[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He 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.’ 25But 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. 26Besides 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.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He 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.’ ”


Her name was Teresa.  She was an African American woman who grew up in New York City.  She lived in government housing in the big city with her mom, dad, and three children.  At that time, the oldest child, a son, was about 6 years old, a 4-year old daughter and an infant, not quite one.

The day her life changed forever, her parents were bed-ridden, and her infant daughter was sick.  The child needed a doctor.  She couldn’t put it off any longer.  Without really quite knowing what to do, her parents – though sick and in the bed, thought that they could manage the two children while Teresa took her baby to the emergency room in New York City.

As each of us can imagine, a visit to the emergency room in New York city would most likely mean it would be hours of just waiting.  And, while Teresa knew this could potentially mean she would be gone for a long while, Teresa made the best decision that she thought possible – to leave her 4 and 6 -year old, at home in the hands of her sick parents.

She left that day for the emergency room – and what she found when she returned, was an absolute horror story that changed the trajectory of her life forever.

Parable after parable, as Jesus sits with his disciples, the Pharisees, and crowds of people who surround him.  And, with each parable that Jesus tells the Pharisees, the angrier they got! 

Just after Jesus had told the parable of the dishonest manager, they ridiculed Him.  They were lovers of money and Jesus had just told them that they could not serve both money and God.  No doubt, Jesus stroke a chord with them. 

But before we criticize the Pharisees too much, I believe that it’s important to remember that in the Jewish Law and particularly in those days, wealth and money was seen as a blessing from God.  In other words, you were living righteously – in the right way, if you had money.

So, not only were the Pharisees lovers of money, but also saw themselves righteous in the eyes of God!  In their minds, there was a legitimate reason they had what they had…

But with each parable, Jesus seems to get more and more blunt and doesn’t hold back…He’s running out of time – His face is set for Jerusalem…and there is this chasm that cannot be broken…a chasm – a tension between heaven and hell

A rich man – who is just like the Pharisees – is a lover of money, living high on the hog, dressed to the hilt, and had everything you could possibly imagine.  This rich man is so important that Jesus doesn’t even give him a name.  He’s just called the “Rich Man.”

But this rich man sure does know who Lazarus is – He’s that guy that just won’t go away and keeps hanging out right outside his door.  What a nuisance he is – always wanting something…uggg…and he smells and has these sores all over him, which attracts the dogs because they just want to lick his sores.  

The rich man most likely thought to himself that he just wished he would go away and go bother someone else…

But he doesn’t just go away.  He’s there right outside this rich man’s house until the day that he dies.  And, not long after Lazarus dies, the rich man dies too – even is buried and has a proper funeral. 

Jesus points out to the Pharisees who are listening to this parable…But, you see, in the Kingdom of Heaven, there is this great reversal –

Whoever is first here, will be last.

Whoever has received good things here on earth, will receive evil things.

Whoever lived in agony here, will now be comforted in their eternal home. 

In the Kingdom of Heaven, everything is turned upside down – reversed, and not what we would ever expect…surely not what the Pharisees would have expected.

The rich man sees Lazarus and recognizes Abraham who is with him.  “Help me,” he says.  I’m in agony.  I’m being tormented in these flames.  Can’t you just send Lazarus over – tip his finger in the water over there and just cool my tongue? 

CHILD – “No can do,” says Abraham.  For you see, there is this great chasm that cannot be crossed over – What is done is done.

And, what does the rich man say?  Hurry – please go warn my five brothers.  Maybe if they see you – Abraham – risen from the dead – they will listen to you and change their ways. 

Abraham tells him, “They already have Moses and the prophets.  If they won’t listen to them, they aren’t even going to listen to someone who has risen from the dead.”

So, what’s the point of this parable?  Was Jesus trying to scare the Pharisees into obedience?  Is that what Jesus is trying to do to us?

There is hell and there is heaven.  Want HEAVEN?

“Go sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

“Pick up your cross and follow me.”

“Show Mercy!  Have Compassion!”

“Follow me!  And, if you don’t…There is this Chasm that you cannot cross over…Once it’s done, it’s done…”

Your opportunity to do the will of God is over. 

In our human nature, as sinners in which we know whom we are, may be sitting here concerned about this  CHASM we cannot cross over…

Who LORD, is this parable for?  Because you see, I’m not sitting at the door of someone’s house hoping for just a crumb to fall from their table and sores all over me, in which the dogs come and lick…

Are you talking to me, Lord? 

Well, here is the thing…I believe Jesus is talking to me – to us.  But my Lord loves me, and He loves you.  My God doesn’t manage by FEAR.

He doesn’t point the finger and say, “IF YOU DON’T DO THIS, THEN YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!” 

Jesus, why in the world are you telling us this parable? 

Well, Teresa took her daughter to the emergency room.  And, yes it was hours later before she was able to get back home to her two children and her mom and dad. 

But, something bad happened while she was gone.  Because she was gone for so long, the two children got hungry and decided it might be a good idea to try and cook something to eat.  They turned on the stove and the apartment caught on fire. 

Her 4-year old and both, her mom and dad were killed in the fire.  Teresa, devasted, was now homeless, and both of her children were taken away from her.

I met Teresa in Atlanta while in seminary.  I was placed in a homeless shelter for women and children, where Teresa was with her 8-month old son – Jeremiah.

While homeless, Teresa had other children, all taken away from her due to homelessness.  She came to Atlanta, hoping and praying she could get feet back on the ground.

When I met Teresa, she had just been placed in government housing and reunited with her other 3 children, who had been placed on foster care for 5 years.

I was there with her that first Christmas they were all a family together for the first time in five years. 

You see, I got to know Teresa.  I visited her every week.  I witnessed her poverty, her struggles to survive, and her desire for her children to have a good education.

I thought I could help Teresa.  I could change her.  I could lead her into making good decisions about her life.  I could have a positive influence on precious Jeremiah…

But, something entirely else happened.  And, it was not at all what I expected…

It was the GREAT REVERSAL!

Something happened to me.  I was the one who began to change.  My perspective on homelessness changed.  I began to realize that for many who were homeless was due to circumstances in their lives.  Believe me – they don’t want to be homeless!

They don’t want to sleep in the post office every night!

They don’t want to worry if they are going to have something to eat this day.

They want jobs!  They want a home.  And, for some, they had those things…but they made mistake, they may have made some bad choices; It may even be how they were raised and they don’t know how to get out of the cycle…

I took Teresa and Jeremiah to lunch one day.  As I listened to her stories, I realized that she was no different than me.  She wanted all the things I wanted – her children to have a good home, a good education, and a promising future.

But, I had something that Teresa didn’t have.  I had the capability to better my life.  I had a loving and supporting husband.  I realized that for Teresa, maybe cleaning hotel rooms was about all she was capable of doing.  Her issues with her children were enormous.  As I heard what she was going through as a parent, I could not fathom how in the world she was dealing with all the problems.

That day as she got out of the car from going to lunch, I gave her two dollars.  I knew she smoked, if given the opportunity.  I told her, “Go have a cigarette on me.” 

Because in all honesty, if I was going through what she was going through…I probably would want more than just a cigarette.

You see…Jesus doesn’t want us to go out and feed the homeless, give clothing to the poor, and participate in outreach, because they need help!

We are the ones that need help! 

We are the ones who are sitting at the gate…begging for God’s grace and the Chasm to be broken…

Jesus knows that when we help others – turn the focus away from ourselves, it is our hearts that are transformed!  We are the ones who are changed in amazing and profound ways!

I always say, “If you want to see Jesus – Go be with the homeless. 

He’s the one sleeping on the park bench.

He’s the one walking down the street with everything he owns in a grocery plastic bag.

He’s the one who needs a shower from being in the heat all day long.

He’s the one who just needs a drink of cold water. 

If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me…

Teresa’s life changed drastically for her that day she came home from the emergency room. 

It’s her life that changed my life –

She opened my eyes and my heart to see the world differently.  To experience God’s grace in such a profound way that changed my heart…

And, so you see…this parable is told to us because as believers in Jesus Christ – because we are the ones who have heard and listened to Moses and the Prophets…

Because we believe in the Resurrection – the Risen Christ – we can know and experience the Love of God every single day of our lives. 

We experience God’s grace – We come to the table willing to accept “Even just a crumb from the Table!” –

And, it’s Jesus who sits in the center of Chasm – and we break through to the OTHER SIDE! 

And, it’s about GRACE!  This GRACE that Jesus gives to us is the same GRACE we are to extend to others –

God’s grace that was only made possible for us because of the CROSS. 

We may think those who are homeless don’t deserve our love, our food, or even our leftovers –

But, CHILD – nor do you deserve God’s amazing GRACE and all that our Lord has done for you! 

But, He did it anyway – AND WHY?

Just so the trajectory of your life would be changed forever!

Amen.

About pastorterrihttps://pastorterri.wordpress.comI serve as the pastor at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Augusta, GA.

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