Summary: Of means and privilege versus poverty and dispair
September 23, 2019
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Sermon Prayer: “Heavenly Father, I stand before Your people, to deliver Your message. Though the words are mine and I prepared this message, I pray that this message is Your message in its entirety. I pray your blessing and anointing on the message, its delivery, its reception - and most of all, its application in our lives.” Amen
The reading Luke 16:19-31 – The Rich Man and Lazarus
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” (v 10)
Luke is telling us that this rich man (a Pharisee as far as I can determine) was at the top of the elite. The color purple is a biblical designation of wealth, honor and royal majesty. Linen was a fabric made of woven flax fibers. The process in biblical times was costly and those who did adorn themselves in linen were either doing it up for very prestigious events such as an elaborate wedding or those among the wealthiest who simply lavished themselves with expensive trappings and jewelry.
Luke would have us envision this rich fellow as being at the top level of wealth and prestige. He would view himself as a person of entitlement.
Let me share what Charles W. Bray III, Deputy Director of the U.S. Internal Communication Agency wrote in the January 15, 1981 issue of Quote Magazine: “We have come to a time where we say, ‘You deserve a break today.’ Too many of us believe that. If we are poor, we deserve welfare; if we are rich, we deserve a tax break; if we are workers, we deserve better fringe benefits; if we own Chrysler, we deserve a bail-out; if we are a special interest, we deserve a special hearing.” It’s all about us and what WE think we DESERVE, isn’t it?
We have recently been talking about what we think we deserve, which can also be said what we think we are entitled to, right? Keep that thought!
Next Luke tells us all about Lazarus, a poor man, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table. (vs 20-21)
I venture to say that we regularly see that poor sickly man every day, standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign seeking any little handout; another digging through a dumpster behind a restaurant hoping to find something to kill the hunger pain. Without being too cynical, we also recognize that there are con men out begging because they know a percentage of folks will find pity on them and hand over something. Here we see contrasting pictures of that poor soul. One is poor and destitute and thus feels deserving or entitlement to alms. The con artist sees that sense of deserving or entitlement and realizes that there are soft hearted people who respond to that perceived need.
Unless I know differently, I am inclined to reach out to the needy and trust that in any event to err in favor of goodness surpasses the risk of being taken advantage of.