A guy took his girlfriend to her first football game. They had great seats right behind the team’s bench. After the game, he asked her how she liked it. “Oh, I really liked it,” she replied, “especially the tight pants and all the big muscles, but I just couldn’t understand why they were killing each other over 25 cents.” Confused, her boyfriend asked, “What do you mean?” She answered, “Well, they flipped a coin, one team got it and then for the rest of the game, all they kept screaming was “Get the quarterback! Get the quarterback. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Hello? It’s only 25 cents!”
Like all of life, things make more sense when we understand what the game is about. It is the same for us of course when we are trying to understand the Scriptures. Like practically everything else in the Bible, this parable is told in a context. Last week Jesus had turned to his disciples and talked to them about the manager who although was dishonest, had planned for his future, and Jesus was warning his followers to plan for their future and not to be distracted by the love of money. But then the Pharisees, who were listening, started laughing because they were in fact lovers of money. So this parable of the rich man is pointed at these religious men who loved money.
The story is short and to the point. There is a rich man, we are not told his name, who is enormously wealthy. His clothing is described as very luxurious, white linen was extremely expensive and purple was even more costly than the white linen. He feasted sumptuously every day. Compared to him we have a poor man named Lazarus who was apparently crippled and without family because they laid him at the gate of the rich man. Lazarus could smell the feasts and he longed for just some crumbs. He was starving and probably starved to death; he had open sores and to add insult to his painful condition, the dogs would come and lick his sores. Lest you think that was OK, during that time, the people considered dogs in the same way we consider rats. They were filthy, traveled in packs, were dangerous, and carried diseases. Lazarus was apparently too ill to drive them away and no one helped him. So we have this incredible contrast between these two men. One was at the very top of the social ladder and one at the very bottom. Then as what happens to us all, they died; they moved from this life into the next. The rich man died and was buried thus making the inference that Lazarus was probably not buried but his body was just thrown into the trash. Yet we are told angels carried him up to Abraham’s side. He was carried to Abraham indicates that Lazarus was a man of faith. His life here on earth was really hard but clearly Lazarus still had faith and believed and trusted in God, in fact his name means ‘God has helped’. Now both men are in chapter two of their lives. The rich man is in Hades in a place of torment and Lazarus is with Abraham in Paradise. This would have been very confusing to the Pharisees. Because the Pharisees would have assumed that the rich man was the man God liked because of all the blessings God had given him; and by contrast, since Lazarus had such a terrible existence clearly God didn’t like him perhaps he was even being punished. So why was the rich man in Hades and in torment? What had he done wrong?
That is the point of this parable isn’t it? What did he do wrong? His situation reminds me of a Garfield cartoon. One cold winter night Garfield looks out the window and sees Odie the Dog peering through the window. Garfield thinks to himself: ‘This is horrible. Here I am in the comfort of a warm house, well fed, and there is Odie outside begging to get in, cold and hungry. I can’t stand it anymore. I just can’t stand it.’ So at that he goes over to the window…and closes the curtains. But you see in the same way every day the rich man would leave his house he would pass by Lazarus laying there at his gate. He could that he was crippled and hungry. But what did he do? He closed the curtains; he looked the other way.
That is what he did wrong. We notice there are no do overs at this point. The rich man had his chance, he played his cards, and now the game is done. He has his eternal reward of torment. Interestingly he doesn’t complain about the justice of where he is, he understands, he gets it. He has stood before God and realized that he messed up big time. Remember that this story is a parable and we are not certain how much of this we are to take literally. In the real Paradise and Hades we do not know if there is conversation between people on either side. But Jesus has a couple of points he wants the Pharisees, his disciples, and us to see. First point is that worldly blessings, wealth, and or position do not automatically mean that we are in with God. The rich man had been circumcised, he had observed the law outwardly, but he did not know God. For us, we can be baptized, we can go to church, but if that is the extent of our relationship with God, then guess what? We are no better off than this rich man. The second point is that it is about faith. Notice the people who are in Paradise. One who had been very poor, that’s Lazarus and the other who had been very wealthy that was Abraham. The outward situation was unimportant; it is about relationship with God. Lazarus and Abraham both had faith and a relationship with God. It is through knowing God and having a relationship with him that we are able to have compassion on those around us.
According to the memoirs of Albert Schweitzer this is the parable that changed his life. He was a man who had a doctoral degree in medicine, theology, and philosophy. He was recognized as one of the best concert organists in all of Europe and had a prime teaching post at the University in Vienna, yet he left all this to be a missionary in Africa and to serve the most primitive people in order to help them medically and bring them the gospel.
And the part of the parable that sent Dr. Albert Schweitzer to Africa was one word, the word, “remember.” Abraham says to the former rich man, “Remember.” Remember your life. Many commentators believe that this is the torment of hell. This remembering, this regretting is what makes up the burning torment. This is why too the rich man is now so concerned for his brothers. He was the elder brother and had set the example and they were following in his footsteps. Now they were certainly responsible for their own lives, yet, all of us who are looked upon as examples have a responsibility to provide a good example to follow. And the rich man had not. And if his brothers were to follow him into hades he would have that much more torment by seeing them tormented too. Remember. We will remember what we did with our lives at the end.
This parable is not about one’s wealth or lack of it. Like the girl who didn’t understand what the game was about, sometimes we go through life as if we don’t know why we are here. We get complacent and become concerned only about ourselves and our own families and comfort and like Garfield we deliberately turn away from seeing those who are in need. We deliberately turn away from serving when we could be a help.
Obviously most of us are not called to the foreign mission field. You and I alone cannot solve world hunger or fix the problems of the world. The point Jesus is driving home to the Pharisees, to his disciples, and to us is simply this, in our day to day lives if we are really God’s children, people of faith, and followers of Jesus Christ when we come across people who need our help something should happen to our hearts. We should be motivated to help; we should be motivated to give our money or time or service. Why should we be motivated? We are to be motivated by the love of God to us! God so loved us that he sent Jesus to die for us. What happens to your heart and my heart when we are confronted with those in need? May God work in us so we know His love and then we are motivated to love, help, and care for the needy around us. Amen