Summary: The rich man's life illustrates some traits that can lead us to miss opportunities God sends.
DID YOU MISS LAZARUS?
I once lived beside a retired pastor and his family. His wife worked at the Department of Social Services. There were many poor people in the county, and she was very familiar with many of them since her line of work often took her to their homes or gave her the opportunity to talk with them at the office. She was also involved in running the Cheese and Cracker Box in the local town. This was a place where indigent people could come to get clothes and food. Each Christmas, her family and others would sponsor a drive to collect Christmas items for families who otherwise would have no Christmas. We had a van ministry in our church, and most of the kids we picked up came from such homes. She was able to tell us about their family situations because her job had taken her into their homes or she had been in contact with the parents in some other capacity. She was conscious of many opportunities to help those who had needs. She would speak often in her Sunday School class of these needs. She was not afraid to speak out about our responsibility as Christians to help. She often referred to one gentleman in her class who would ask, "Well where are all the poor people?" He lived in his own little secluded world. He was around others, but for some reason did not see the opportunities to help that surrounded him.
The rich man Jesus speaks of was like that. The opportunity to help someone in need was right in his doorstep, but he did not see it as an opportunity or did not care. This is a very challenging parable that Jesus tells about a rich and poor man. It is not meant to teach that it is a sin to be rich or that all poor people will be saved in the end. It demonstrates in graphic language the two opposite extremes in society. It is a severe rebuke against our complacency when it comes to meeting the needs of others God gives us opportunity to meet.
Seen in this light, Lazarus is an opportunity. There was a man and an opportunity lying at the rich man's gate. He virtually ignored the man and at the same time allowed the opportunity to pass. It was only after his earthly life ended that he realized his mistake. Of course, then it was too late. While he knew great comforts in life, his eternity was quite different. While Lazarus, the poor beggar, had known a wretched life, his eternity was bright.
And, so as the question, "Did you miss Lazarus," is asked, it is actually considering whether an opportunity to help was missed. That help may come by giving spiritually, financially, mentally or emotionally. It is amazing the opportunities that almost slap us in the face, but we let them go by because of our busyness or lack of concern.
Today, I want us to think about some things that can cause us to miss our Lazarus.
I. SELFISHNESS LEADS TO MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
The parable makes it very evident that the rich man was selfish. Jesus did not teach that being wealthy was wrong, but he designed the parable to illustrate the solemn peril of the selfish use of wealth. The sin of the rich man was not in how he acquired his wealth or that he possessed great wealth. He had not breached any moral law that we know of. His sin was living in selfish luxury while one poor beggar lay unrelieved at his very door.
Jesus says of the rich man that he dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. Purple was the color of the expensive outer garment worn by royalty. Originally, it designated the dye used to manufacture such cloth. His inner garment was made of fine linen.
The condition of the rich man was quite different from that of Lazarus. Lazarus was a beggar. Since he lay at the rich man's gate, we can infer that he was crippled or made helpless by his disease. Sores covered him. This was a condition not unusual in people who subsist on a deficient diet and live in unsanitary conditions.
Lazarus longed to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Bread served as napkins in these days. After being used, it was thrown under the table. Lazarus had established himself in this place in hopes of getting some of that bread. He was so pitiful that he could not fend off the dogs that roamed the city streets and aggravated his sores by licking them.
What else but selfishness could lead the rich man to turn his eyes from such an opportunity that lay at his very door. Here was an opportunity for him to share what God had blessed him with. Here was his chance to use his wealth to help a fellow human being and one of God's children. His selfishness blinded him to the opportunity. There is no other conclusion we can draw. He had so much that he could not see the one who had so little.