O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Rich and Poor
Rich and Poor
Based on Luke 16:19-31
Preached on September 25, 2016
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“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.”
Of these two men, which would you rather be? The one with the nice suits, the expensive cars, the servants, the Mediterranean vacations, the fine food and wine? Or the one who had to be carried because he couldn’t walk? Who had to beg because he couldn’t work? Whose body was covered with painful sores and whose only physicians were the dogs who licked his wounds? Who looked through the window at the rich man’s table and longed to be a dog at his feet, lapping up the table scraps?
Which of these two men would you say was blessed by God? Be honest. You’d say the rich man. Because He could count his blessings. He had “good things.” Lots of stuff. And the poor beggar, whose name was Lazarus, he had nothing. Blessed by God? Hardly! We might suspect he was cursed by God, that he did something to deserve this lot in life. And there we would be very wrong.
This parable comes at the end of a chunk of teaching where Jesus wants to loosen our grip on our money. He starts with the parable of the dishonest money manager who used his money shrewdly to make friends while he still had time. Jesus observes that how you handle little things like money is a barometer for how you handle big riches like salvation and eternal life. He warns that no one can serve two masters. You will either love money and hate God, or love God and hate money, but you can’t love and serve them both. As believers, you are servants of God and masters over money. Finally, in this chunk of teaching, Jesus reminds the Pharisees, who loved money, that what man esteems, God despises, and if you want to be on the same page with God, you better let go of your death grip on money before it drags you down like a lead anchor into the depths of hell. At the end of all that comes this parable of the rich man and Lazarus. And as He does with many parables, Jesus paints this one in black and white.
There is a man who is filthy rich - who has a filthy beggar - lying at his gate. And though the parable has just started - both men die. Death is the great equalizer. Rich and poor die alike. And then - comes the big surprise. The great reversal of fortunes. In death everything gets turned upside down. The rich man loses everything; the poor man gains everything. The rich man becomes the beggar; the beggar becomes the rich man. The one who was blessed is cursed; the one who was cursed is blessed. Go figure.
Lazarus, who was carried every day of his miserable life to the gate of the rich man, is now carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. “Bosom of Abraham” is a Jewish euphemism for what we usually call “heaven” or what Jesus called Paradise. Lazarus is in a good place, comforted, whole, happy, hanging with Abraham.
But the rich man is in Hades, a bad place, a place of torment. The worst of the torment - is that he can see Lazarus relaxing with Abraham, just as Lazarus used to look through the rich man’s window at dinner time. The rich man, who was used to ordering servants around all his life, now tries to order Lazarus to please fetch him a drink because it’s damn hot down here. At the very least, that he would dip the end of his finger in some water and cool his tongue. Lazarus used to long for the crumbs; the rich man now longs for a cooling finger.
And the hell of it all is that there is a chasm, this huge gap the size of the Grand Canyon, preventing that cooling finger from ever reaching the rich man’s burning tongue. The distance between the rich man’s table and Lazarus was considerably shorter, just a few meters.
The parable illustrates what Jesus spoke of last week. “Make friends for yourselves by means of your money, so that when it fails (and when you die), they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” The rich man did not do what the shrewd money manager did. He didn’t invest in the mouth of Lazarus. He loved his money; he hated God. Perhaps he didn’t even bother to think about God much less trust him. Why trust God when you have everything anyway?
But when money fails, and it always ultimately fails, when you drop dead and all your hard-earned money gets fought over by your deadbeat kids, the happiness that money brings dies with it. And then what? The rich man in his unbelief winds up an eternal beggar, worse off than Lazarus. And the poor man in his faith has the comforts of Abraham.
Of course, there are no atheists in Hades. And suddenly, the rich man, maybe for the first time in his life, takes an interest in someone else and is interested in evangelism of all things. He has five brothers. They’re rich too, most likely. He doesn’t want them to wind up the same way. “Please send Lazarus to warn them.” Ironically, Jesus did raise a man named Lazarus from the dead, and it didn’t do any good. The authorities actually plotted to kill Lazarus too because he was making a big name for Jesus.
The tormented rich man gets an answer though. “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” They have the Word written and preached. It’s there for them in church, waiting to be heard. That’s all they need to avoid the fate of the rich man. That’s all the rich man needed, and he had it all his wealthy life. Who knows? Perhaps the rich man was there every Sabbath in the synagogue sitting in his place of honor as one of the pillars of the congregation. Perhaps he heard the Word every Sabbath because that’s where everyone else was and no one was doing business. Sadly, he is the weedy soil in Jesus’ parable, where the seed of the Word is planted but never takes root because the riches and cares of this world choke it out with busy calendars and commitments and concerns. Jesus said it’s easier to pull a camel through the eye of a needle than to squeeze a rich man into the kingdom. This rich man would agree.
Even if someone should rise from the dead – they STILL would not be convinced if they reject the Word, Moses and the Prophets. Jesus Himself would rise from the dead, but for those that reject the Word it helps them nothing. Resurrections are impressive, but even the greatest miracle won’t produce even mustard-seed sized faith without the Word. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ – the word of forgiveness in Jesus’ name, the word delivered in Baptism and Supper. The Word spoken from God’s holy court declaring you - a sinner – to be right with God solely for the sake of Jesus. Innocent. Not guilty. This declaration creates faith.
Which one would you like to be? The rich man or Lazarus? And the parable won’t let you have it both ways. Would you rather be poor in this life and rich in the life to come or rich in this life only to spend an eternity parted from every comfort you’ve come to enjoy?
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” “We are all beggars, this is true,” Luther said at the end of his life. We are all Lazarus – helpless and hopeless in the poverty of our sin, sick unto death, longing to even eat the crumbs that fall from God’s table. Lazarus is each of us, and unless we see ourselves in him, we cannot be saved. We won’t want to be saved.
Jesus was rich. But He was not like the rich man in the parable. No, He comes to us in our poverty. “Though He was rich, yet for our sakes, He became poor that we through His poverty might become rich.” He comes to us in the poverty of our sin and death. He comes to us, though we stand condemned under the Law to an eternity of misery. He comes to us when we are unable to help ourselves. He comes – and He takes on our weak and diseased and fallen humanity. He lifts us up from the curb and brings us to His house – where He washes our wounds with His Baptism and gives us a seat at His table – Not as pathetic beggars, but as beloved friends – Not as strangers but as members of His family – Not to eat the crumbs that fall from the table – but to feast on the fullness of the salvation He has won for us in His own body and blood.
Beloved, Jesus has joined us there, among the dogs, the outcasts, and the losers. A beggar to save the beggars. A poor man to save the poor. A broken man to save the broken. You have the Word of Christ, greater than Moses and the prophets. You have the Word made flesh – eternal food served into your needy mouth. Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of Christ. So hear it now. Your sins are forgiven in Jesus. Your death is destroyed in Jesus. Hell has no power over you – because you are in Jesus.
The last stanza of our Hymn of the Day prays it best:
Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until they reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr