St. Luke 16:19-31
“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. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Two of the words from our text can be used to summarize the situation for the two men who are talked about in the text: sumptuously and sores.
Of course, sumptuously describes the lifestyle of the one who is identified in the text as “the rich man”. Sumptuously describes the fact that he was surrounding himself all of the time with the beautiful people of society. Along with all of them, he was eating exorbitant amounts of the most delicious foods. We can imagine the lavish occasions he was hosting at his home (St. Luke tells us that it was every day). He even describes about him, that he tended to wear the fanciest clothes of purple and fine linen. Sumptuously.
On the other hand, sores is the word that can be used to summarize the situation for the other man in the text, named Lazarus. Nothing about his life could be described as lavish. His was a very difficult life - painful, wanting. While there isn’t anything that the rich man apparently desired in this world (he had it all), poor Lazarus desired something as stated in the text: he desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. He had bad things in this life, as Abraham says to the rich man. Sores.
This can be a tricky text. It can be misunderstood, and its real point missed. Our Old Testament lesson sheds some light. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the LORD directs to Himself, all who would desire everlasting wealth. He is the one Who provides it. He notes that a person who might think he has everything, can be missing what is truly important (you and I could be missing it too, if we’re not careful).
We know that the rich man was missing what is truly important, because he wasn’t carried by the angels to Abraham’s side, like it says of Lazarus. Rather, he was buried. And then, he was in torment, in hell. The one who boasts that he knows and understands [the Lord] is the one who is eternally wealthy, according our Old Testament lesson.
And knowing and understanding the Lord means knowing and understanding specific things about Him that are mentioned in the text. He is the Lord who practices [and who delights in] steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.
St. John expounds upon this in the section of his first letter that serves as our epistle lesson. Someone who is of the true God knows and believes the love God has for [people]. That person abides in that same love. It is what the Holy Spirit is enabling that person to do and be. The Spirit enables you to do and be this, as a result of your Baptism, and though the Word that you continue to hear, and through the Supper that Christ provides. Abiding in this love makes you confident before God. You know that God is merciful toward you. You know that forgiveness is what God’s love looks like.
That kind of love reaches out toward others. It’s a generous love. It’s a caring love. It’s a helping love. It seeks to meet others’ needs. Someone was asking on Facebook the other night: “If we are saved by God’s grace alone, why do we also need to do good works?” The answer is that our faith results in good works. If we know God, we do godly things. The Spirit works in us to bring it about. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. St. John is telling us, again, that truly knowing God exhibits itself in being godly. Specifically, it exhibits itself in loving like God loves.
The nameless man who was simply buried in death, and then suffering, didn’t know the Lord like this. It doesn’t really have anything to do with him being rich, except that we know from that, that he was in a position to help, and chose not to. The Lord had given him resources to help his neighbor, the Spirit attempted to bring about the fruits of righteousness in him. What the man didn’t do speaks about what he didn’t know or believe. In fact, he had rejected the Spirit’s attempts at producing faith and its fruits in him. In you, the Spirit is working to produce those same fruits.
Jesus told His disciples that it is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:23). It’s easy to understand his point, of course. A person can come to think he has, in this world, everything anyone could ever need. The so-called rich young man Jesus encountered in His ministry went away sorrowful when Jesus suggested he exchange his earthly wealth for treasure in heaven, for, it says, he had great possessions (Matt. 19:21-22). The Lord demands that the wise man, the rich man, the mighty man boast in knowing Him, rather than in his worldly wisdom, riches, might.
Father Abraham tells the nameless rich man that Lazarus is now comforted [in heaven]. Interestingly, that tells us a lot about Lazarus. You didn’t think we knew much about him, did you? It says so little in our text. He suffers from sores on his skin. He longs for what the dogs usually get - scraps that fall from the table. He suffers the indifference of those who are in a position to help him.
He doesn’t suffer indifference from God, though. He’s one of the ones who boasts that he knows and understands the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. That enables a person to be comforted in heaven (not poverty, not ill-treatment by others, not suffering with illness - those don’t save a person).
God is the Strength of all who put their trust in [Him]. That’s what we said in the Collect this morning. That could have been the case for the rich man, that he recognized that earthly wealth is passing, and that knowing God is what makes a person truly wealthy. Many rich people in this world have known that. He simply didn’t. And it showed in his indifference to the man dying outside his door. Lazarus, on the other hand, trusted in the Lord. That is why the Lord delivered him in death, to His kingdom where he is comforted.
It could have been the case for Lazarus, that he spent his life resenting being on the bottom rung of society (no doubt, at times, he did resent it). He could have had no use for any god that would allow him to suffer (no doubt, at times, he was tempted to think that way - and even did think that way). He could have determined that his only priority in life should be to figure out a way to get from the bottom to the top. He certainly wouldn’t have been alone among - even many believers much of the time - if that were the case.
Hasn’t it been hard for you to trust in the Lord sometimes, when things looked really bleak? Didn’t you fail at it, spending all your time and energy seeking first this earthly kingdom and it’s wisdom as your solution? Hasn’t God’s forgiveness and His kingdom become to you like something buried in the back of a drawer as you searched for human solutions to the challenges of this life? One of Satan’s most successful strategies is to convince Christians that the crisis in their life is so monumental, they don’t have time to go to church right now. They need to get things under control, and then, eventually get back there.
You might likely be in a position in between these two men in our text, between sumptuously and sores. Solomon asked the Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:8-9).
In your sorrowing over reliance on this world’s wealth, and a tendency at times to use it selfishly, ignoring your neighbor's needs; and in your sorrowing over seeking after this world’s comforts, though the Lord has blessed you in this life and promised everything in His kingdom; in this sorrowing: cling to the One God has provided in His steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. Cling to the One Who never failed to love His neighbor in every possible way - even dying to do so. Cling to the One Who resisted the devil’s every attempt to turn His priorities to this world rather than God’s kingdom. Cling to Christ, in Whom you have full and free forgiveness for these sins. Rather than in this world’s wealth, and wisdom, and might, boast in knowing Him for salvation. Value more highly than anything else, that you know and believe the love God has for you in Christ. Know that you are forgiven in Christ for those times you haven’t. Be comforted now, even if you have times of bad things because you anticipate the comfort in God’s kingdom that is eternal. Amen.
collect of the Day
O God, the Strength of all who put their trust in You: Mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without You, grant us Your Holy Spirit, that we may please You both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” [what a person can be missing, though he might think he has everything]
1 John 4:16-21
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. [what a person is like who is a believer - opposite of what the rich man was in the text]