Summary: The rich man's sin was not his wealth, but his hard heart. Those who are rich have an obligation to help the poor. How we use what we have leads to God's judgment.
The Pope, Billy Graham and Oral Roberts all died on the same day and arrived at the Pearly Gates at the same time. St. Peter said to them, "I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that we are full right now and I am going to have to send the three of you down to the devil. The good news is it should be temporary and I'll have you back in six weeks or less". St Peter made a quick call to Satan to arrange the necessary accommodations, and then the three went for a brief stay in hell.
A week later, St. Peter received an urgent call from Demon HQ. It's the Devil himself. "You have to get these guys out of here and now! I mean NOW!" "What's the problem?" St. Peter asked. "It's like this," the Infernal One explains, "The Pope is going around blessing everyone, Billy Graham is saving everyone, and Oral Roberts has raised almost enough money to put in air conditioning!"
On Oct. 29, 1999, the CBS Morning Show went to Hell. A headline in the Detroit News on Nov. 3, 1999 read, "Businessman Sees Hell as Tourist Site." A headline in the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 29, 2000 read, "Saints and Sinners Can All Go to Hell". On Jan. 27, 2001, a headline in the Detroit News read, "Almost Cold Enough to Freeze Hell Over". The article read, "The deep freeze that hit the nation in recent weeks and buried several states in an unending wave of snow had one more odd effect: Hell almost froze over".
What each of these stories was referring to is a small town between Detroit and Lansing, Michigan called Hell. A small town of just a few hundred residents, it has capitalized off its name. The Chamber of Commerce has a billboard visible to travelers traveling along a nearby highway suggesting they go to Hell. The town gets calls throughout the year from TV and newspaper weather reporters to find out if there town is truly hotter or colder than hell. Husbands send alimony cheques through the post office so that they are postmarked in Hell. Many citizens in the surrounding area come to this little town every April to mail their tax returns so that they bear the Hell postmark.
We can laugh about hell all we want, but in today's Gospel reading, Jesus reveals that hell is a real place that is no laughing matter. Where we end up after we die depends on where our heart is in this life. God calls us to celebrate the riches of life, not a life of riches. Where our treasure is, so is our heart. A good example of this is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Both wanted to enjoy the good things in life, but the rich man wanted everything for himself. This is typical of the "me first" world we live in today. No one in his right mind who is right with God would refuse to help a neighbour in times of trouble, but that's what the rich man did when he refused to help Lazarus. The rich man chose to live according to the chasm his god-money-created in life. He couldn't cross the great chasm in death. The price we pay for our love of money is a deep chasm that divides us from each other. The rich man enjoyed a life of plenty on earth, while Lazarus enjoyed a life of material poverty. When they died, they went in opposite directions-the rich man to hell, and Lazarus to heaven.
The rich man's thirst in hell is the same thirst we have-a thirst to know God. For the rich man, it was too late. For us who are living, it is never too late to know God. Knowing God won't save us from times of trouble, but faith in Jesus will give us an anchor to hold on to during life's storms-just like the words of the hymn "Will Your Anchor Hold" say. God wants us to know Him because He loves us and wants to provide for our needs. He wants to provide for us because of the special covenant He has with us. He wants us to be as close to Him as His shadow. God wants us to be dependent on him so we can experience our greatest happiness and freedom. God never stops giving. Coveting feeds a lack of contentment, encourages roving, restless eyes and causes us to look for satisfaction in the things we don't have instead of the riches God has given us to enjoy. God uses money to steer our lives into the areas in which He wants us involved. He does this by giving or withholding money.