LUKE 16 – SOME WARNINGS TO THE RICH
Bible Background: Luke sees wealth as a ‘spiritual barometer’. How you got it, what you do with it, means everything. Jesus warns “You cannot serve God and wealth.” The Pharisees are accused (perhaps wrongly) of being ‘lovers of money’. It would be so much more Christ-like if we were obviously lovers of people!
Digging Deeper: 1. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus highlights some obvious gaps: ” Rich/poor. Full/hungry; Fine clothes/clothed in sores; Nameless/named (Lazarus means “God has helped”); and Tormented/comforted. Luke’s Gospel has an obvious concern for the poor, and how God “balances the scales” so to speak. In Mary’s Song (Luke 2) she sings how “the hungry will be filled with good things, and the rich will be sent empty away.” This story illustrates that idea! How do we who are among the richest people of the world, hear a parable like this? Is it threatening? Is it a helpful word of caution? Or?
2. In Bible times (and even today), wealth was seen as a sign of God’s blessing. In this story, wealth didn’t do the rich man much good; and he didn’t do Lazarus any good. Wealth seems to have insulated the rich man from his poor neighbors. How does our relatively wealthy status (as persons, as church, as nation) artificially insulate us from our poor neighbors? What would Jesus say of this divide?
3. This parable does not give a complete picture of the ‘afterlife’, and certainly not a good picture of eternal life with Christ. But the torment experienced by the rich man in Hades is excruciating (note ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are not mentioned here). What did the rich man do wrong? What, if anything, did Lazarus do right? What if by accident of birth, we wound up being the rich man? What if we had been born into Lazarus’ poverty? What does that require of us who were fortunate to be born American? Middle class? White? Even Christian?
4. There is no mercy for the rich man in this story. But there is hope for his 5 brothers-and he does seem to care about them! What if we are, in a sense, the 5 siblings in the story? What ought we pay attention to regarding our wealth and our neighbor’s poverty here, in this life? “The Christmas Carol” with Ebenezer Scrooge has Scrooge with his terrible nightmare, where he wakes up a changed man-and actually changes his ways! How is this parable a wake-up call for us?
5. A couple of notes: Scripture talks about wealth/poverty/rich/poor something like 900 times, and it consistently reveals God’s “preferential option for the poor.” Yes, God has a bias! Also, this is the only parable where a character has a name! And it’s the poor person whom ‘God helps!’