“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Luke 16:19-31 NIV
Lazarus, a beggar, dressed only in sores with dogs as companions, sits at the gate of a rich man who lives in the lap of luxury every day. Lazarus’s only desire is to eat the crumbs that fell from a rich man’s table. Later, the two men die; Lazarus goes to “Paradise” while the rich man goes to “Hades.” In Hades, the rich man is tormented and in his great agony from the fire, sees Lazarus and Father Abraham far away. He calls to Father Abraham and asks him to have pity on him and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and come cool his tongue. Abraham tells the rich man that his rewards came to him on earth while Lazarus suffered, and that now Lazarus is comforted while the rich man must suffer. He then explains that even if he wanted to, there is a great chasm fixed between them that will not allow anyone to cross between the two. The rich man responds to this by asking Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to speak to his five brothers and warn them so they will not suffer his same fate. Abraham tells the rich man that his brothers have “Moses and the Prophets” (that is, the Old Testament) and they can get their wisdom from that. The rich man rebuffs this suggestion saying that it is far more powerful a proof if a dead man were to appear to them with this news. Father Abraham ends the discussion by telling the rich man that any man who does not listen to Moses and the Prophets would not be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead.
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts….”
In every story He tells, Jesus always comes back to our hearts.
The sin of the rich man was not his wealth, it was the condition of his heart. His lack of compassion on earth and his pride carried over even into the agony of Hades where he asks Abraham to have Lazarus comfort him and send him to give a message to his brothers. He cared more for the praise of men than he did for those around him, and that praise became his only reward.
We live in an amazing time, don’t we? The modern world is truly a marvel and technology has the ability to bring us closer together than ever. We have the opportunity to connect in ways that generations before have never been able to do, and we have the power to shine a light on injustice and need in our world that can be seen and heralded to the masses.
Amazing. And yet…
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the rate of drug overdose deaths in America was 6.1% 20 years ago. By 2017, that number had increased to 21.7%. The rate increased an average 10% per year from 1999-2006, 3% from 2006-2014, and 16% through 2017.
Suicide rates are also on the rise. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally, one person takes their life every 40 seconds. They predict that by 2020 the rate will be one life every 20 seconds. So what’s going on? Why aren’t we happier, more connected, more THERE for each other?
The truth is, all of this technology makes it easy for us to insulate ourselves from one another. The beautiful convenience of this modern age can make the real conversations with those around us gradually become less and less. We are in danger of replacing it all with a façade on a screen and polite conversations as we interact with society.
What does this have to do with the parable?
We are hardening our hearts. It is becoming easier and easier to make this world all about us – our pleasures, our conveniences, our agendas, and our interests. We are in danger of becoming the rich man, so wrapped up in our pursuits that we don’t see Lazarus right in front of us. We are being lured in by a false sense of connection that is actually leaving others completely out and helping us to focus on only that which pleases us. We have filters that allow us to shape our online world with only people, and thoughts, and ads that target us. Computer algorithms create a world that shapes around our likes and dislikes and we begin to assume that everyone’s world looks and functions like ours. That is comfortable, and we like comfortable.
My first thoughts when I read the parable were that there was no way I could connect to this guy! Who could be so blind and callous as to NOT see a man in this condition sitting by him every day and not give him so much as a scrap?! But the reality is that it isn’t that difficult, and the result of that hardness has grave consequences. When the world is shaped around my pursuits and agendas, tunnel vision creeps in and tells me that my ambitions are all that matter. Abraham tells the rich man his rewards came on earth and that was it. He goes so far as to say that those who have hardened their hearts, even if they saw a man rise from the dead they would not be persuaded that what they do on earth has eternal consequences.
So what do we do?
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds. And to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
-1 Timothy 6:17-19
As Believers, we have an abundance of joy and kindness and love that God has filled us with that we can share with someone in need if we would just look up and out. It is not missed by us to give it away, because it doesn’t come from us, it comes from our Creator.
The parable of the rich man tells us, in part, that no matter what we have in this world, we always have something to give away if our hearts are set to see outside of our own agenda. The rich man was clothed in fine, purple linen and Lazarus was clothed in sores.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Take time with people, like the ones working the grocery or fast food line (especially teenagers). Put down your phone and make a conscious effort to look up – even if it’s uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to have a no-agenda day. Stop and let cars in front of you, smile at people and look them in the eyes, start positive conversations with the cashiers, compliment a stranger! Sit at a table and pray for each person that walks past or sits near you. You know what – it feels amazing. You can see the change in a person’s countenance when they are offered even the simplest kindness. You will find a blessing not only for them, but also for you.
Then begin to ask the question, “Am I called to do more?” Have a real conversation with God about anyone He may want you to sit longer with, break bread with, or even give of your resources to. Look for a place to serve, if you aren’t already involved somewhere. Be open to humbling yourself for the sake of another.
Let’s hear the warning of Jesus and not store up all of our treasures on earth. Let’s be the hands and feet of Jesus this month. Are you with me?