Whenever I’ve read the story (NOT a parable, you’ll note) of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31, I’ve been marginally confused as to what Jesus was trying to tell me. Just to refresh your memory, I’ll reprint the story here:
19“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried,
23and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24And 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.’ 25But 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. 26And 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.’ 27And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’29But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’30And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
I have, for years, taken the stubbornness of the unbeliever as the message of that tale. (It’s not a parable because Jesus names the poor man, implying that it’s a specific person, and while He doesn’t specify a name for the rich man, He does include the five brothers as evidence of a particular man.) The exiles in Exodus saw nothing BUT miracles from God, and denied Him anyway; Abraham rightly points out that only with the Holy Spirit would the rich man’s brothers come to believe – if they don’t believe NOW, having someone rise from the dead isn’t going to do it, either.
But now, I’ve come to see something different coming from the story, because I’ve stopped to consider the context. I was guilty of the easiest sin of a Bible student – “jerk-a-verse”, in this case “jerk-a-story”. I failed to consider the previous topic of chapter 16 – the greed of the Pharisees. Jesus had just told them the Parable of the Dishonest Manager (another story I need more help with!) and continued with this diatribe against the Pharisetical greed:
10“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
14The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
The subject of the chapter is greed, not non-belief. Thus, that’s the focus of Abraham and the Rich Man.
The Lord spent a great deal of time and effort in both testaments to encourage (with a stick) helping the poor. The more I realize this, the more I panic about my own salvation, and how secure I really am. Have I demonstrated my salvation in my use of money or not? Is there more than circumstantial evidence that I felt more strongly for the condition of the needy around me than my own comfort? If I’m honest, the answer is probably “no”.
And this is NOT just a whim of the Lord’s. Throughout the Bible, God has emphasized this as a critical point in His people’s salvations and positive assessments. Recently, I heard David Platt rattle off a handful of those passages, some of which I’ve reprinted here (and some others are from other suggestions).
To start off, let’s look at Deuteronomy 15, where God is first laying down laws for His People as they prepare to enter the Promised Land:
7“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.9Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. 10You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
THAT is a damning passage: “There will never cease to be poor in the land.” Usually, WE follow that with, “so what can you do about it?”, but GOD follows it with “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and poor, in your land.” Gulp. There goes our excuse…
Here’s another passage, from Isaiah 3:
13The LORD has taken his place to contend;
he stands to judge peoples.
14The LORD will enter into judgment
with the elders and princes of his people:
“It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor?”
declares the Lord GOD of hosts.
16The LORD said:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty
and walk with outstretched necks,
glancing wantonly with their eyes,
mincing along as they go,
tinkling with their feet,
17therefore the Lord will strike with a scab
the heads of the daughters of Zion,
and the LORD will lay bare their secret parts.
18In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; 19the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves;20the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; 21the signet rings and nose rings; 22the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; 23the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils.
24Instead of perfume there will be rottenness;
and instead of a belt, a rope;
and instead of well-set hair, baldness;
and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth;
and branding instead of beauty.
25Your men shall fall by the sword
and your mighty men in battle.
26And her gates shall lament and mourn;
empty, she shall sit on the ground.
There’s something about the way He lists all the stuff the women are wearing that sounds so incredibly disdaining! By the time you make it from verse 18 to verse 23, you can feel His Disgust just dripping off each word!
Here’s Jeremiah 5, one book over, with the same complaint against God’s People:
26For wicked men are found among my people;
they lurk like fowlers lying in wait.
They set a trap;
they catch men.
27Like a cage full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
therefore they have become great and rich;
28they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no bounds in deeds of evil;
they judge not with justice
the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper,
and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
29Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the LORD,
and shall I not avenge myself
on a nation such as this?”
Ezekiel 16 is particularly frightening. We always think of Sodom and Gomorrah as being the primary examples of sin against God, but He declares that depriving your poor neighbors of food when you have plenty is WORSE than any crime Sodom every committed:
48As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.
Such a simple sentence. “So I removed them.” Wow… “THIS was the guilt of your sister: She and her daughters had PRIDE, EXCESS of FOOD, and prosperous ease, but DID NOT AID THE POOR and needy.”
The New Testament is no different, in case you were hoping to escape judgment that way. This is from the Sermon on the Mount, in Luke 6:
20And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
And consider the response of Jesus to the conversion of Zaccheus in Luke 19:
1He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Today, salvation has come. How do we know? Proof of a changed heart.
Second Corinthians 8, verse 9:
9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
First John, Chapter 3:
17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
19By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Now, here is the problem; more to the point, I suppose, here’s where the consequences hit the road. Matthew 25, following all the stories and parables about the End Times and how to avoid the pitfalls of various sins, tells us how Christ will determine WHO goes to Heaven and WHO goes to Hell:
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
(Here, I’m imagining a massive game of “evens on this side, odds on the other” when you get a number coming to the White Throne Judgment. But I may be completely wrong.)
34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Will it be that simple? Will your eternal fate be determined simply by whether or not you helped the poor? Maybe not, but it sounds like it’s pretty important to Jesus Christ and to God the Father.
Maybe we ought to do it.