Reflections for the Week of September 25, 2016 Nineteenth after Pentecost

Gospel: Luke 16.19-31. Jesus tells the parable about Lazarus, a poor beggar, and a rich man (often referred to as “Dives” which mean ‘rich’) who had everything. Lazarus lay at Dives’ gate and dogs licked his sores while Dives dined sumptuously on fine food in his fine house with his fine friends. They both eventually died and Lazarus went to heaven to be with Abraham in Paradise and Dives went to Hades where he was in constant torment. Dives cried out to ask Abraham to send Lazarus to give him a sip of water, but Abraham said he couldn’t because there is a great gulf between heaven and hell that no one can cross. Dives then asked Abraham to send Lazarus to Dives’ father’s house to tell his family about how they should live in the light of the eternal realities which he now perceived. Abraham told Dives that his family had the Scriptures which would tell them what they needed to know. Dives dismisses this answer because apparently he had not availed himself of them, and wanted Lazarus to tell his family personally. Abraham said if they won’t read and believe the Scriptures, they won’t believe Someone who is sent to them who is risen from the dead!

This parable is troubling, and it was intended to be. Dives the rich man, is condemned to Hades. But why? Surely not simply because he was rich. No, his sin was that a needy person lay at his gate–i.e., virtually before his eyes–and Dives didn’t help him. He probably didn’t even notice him. In our self-centeredness we lose the capacity even to be aware of the needs of others. These are the sins of omission the General Confession warns us about (“what we have done and what we have left undone”).

We live surrounded by people who are poor, hungry, and in need and we lavish riches and pleasure on ourselves and are unaware of the needs around us. Why don’t we spend less on ourselves and give more to help those in need? Do we give proportionally to our means to the church and charity? Or do we slight the latter and indulge ourselves with luxury and pleasure? And why was Lazarus in heaven? Surely not just because he was poor. Scripture makes clear that God has a special love for the poor, but it is not just their poverty that makes them virtuous but that poverty may lead many to trust powerfully in God and to prayer which lead to justification, atonement, remission of sins, and eternal life. Jesus said the poor in spirit are blessed and will inherit the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5.3). To be “poor in spirit” seems to mean that we have nothing in ourselves that is worth anything: we are worthless; only God is worthy and we must depend upon Him for what we really need. We tend, rather, to depend on ourselves and neglect God. Apparently Lazarus depended on God and worshipped Him because he received the reward of faith which is eternal life.

The parable demands that we ask, “What do we do?” Do we depend on ourselves rather than God? Do we seek pleasure, comfort, and affluence now rather than devoting our efforts toward the kingdom of heaven? Do we use our means primarily for our own benefit or do we give what we can to help others? These are the questions raised for disciples by this parable. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus and learn from Him. He was constantly teaching by word and example and expects us not only to hear Him but to do what He says. We learn from Him through Scripture, prayer, and Christian fellowship.

Memory Verse: Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was (Jas 1.23-25).

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