Once again we have a story that seems to be about money. One could easily be led to believe from this parable that the poor go to heaven and the rich go to hell. But the rich man wasn’t judged because he was rich and neither was the poor man rewarded because he was poor.
If this were the condition for heaven then there was no need to send Jesus to pay for our sins – we would just need to sell everything. The rich man’s judgment had nothing to do with his financial circumstances but a breaking of the commandment to love God and neighbour.
The rich man, who has no name, has lived the high life. He hasn’t had a worry in the world. Anything that he needed he could buy. But with the extra that God had blessed him with he did not use to help others but gave more to himself. He feasted every day on lavish food and drink.
In stark comparison we have Lazarus who lived the complete opposite style of life. Covered with sores, he longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
What happens next is the first part of the parable’s teaching. The fortunes of Lazarus and the rich man are reversed. Lazarus ends up at the side of Abraham in peace and comfort while the rich man ends up in hades in severe torment. Their fortunes are reversed.
But it is the next part of the parable that is worrying for us. There is a chasm – a division – between Lazarus and the rich man – between heaven and hell – that prevents an end to the rich man’s torment. And when he asks for relief from his torment he is told by Abraham that the chasm cannot be crossed over even for a small sip of water to ease the pain. Those in torment remain in torment forever.
If ever we needed motivation to do mission work this must be it. The separation from God eternally of those who reject God’s grace and mercy by the forgiveness of their sins. It is sad and concerning that the world seems to be going more and more the way of the rich man who was concerned only for himself.
What we learn from this parable is that life here on earth is temporary. The suffering we go through in this life will be eradicated in the life to come. As John saw in his vision when he saw a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
This world is not always fair, as Lazarus discovered, but in death it all ends and new life begins. But what really worries me about this text is that the rich man wasn’t evil – he was just consumed by his own self. Hell becomes a place of separation for those who have rejected God’s grace and mercy and sadly because of our free will God honours that rejection.
Sadly the world is becoming more and more self-obsessed turning away from God. I would like to say that everyone goes to heaven or that eventually God’s judgment will subside and those in hell will be let into heaven.
But I don’t see that in Jesus’ teachings. No, Jesus always talks about separation of sheep and goats – wheat and weeds – good fish and bad fish. And here, the rich man and Lazarus. And Jesus talks about an eternal separation where there is torment, weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But the good news is that Jesus has done all the hard work for us. It is so easy to get into heaven. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved. Whoever believes in God’s Son shall not perish but have eternal life. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
When we look at the reversal of fortunes of Lazarus and the rich man, there is an even greater reversal of fortunes that we read in God’s Word: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus took on our sin and we took on his righteousness.
That, my friends, is the greatest reversal of fortunes we will ever see. And what is so sad is that it is so simple but have we, as the church, conveyed that to the world. Have we instead put up barriers that have prevented people from crossing over from the torment of the world to the blessings of God’s grace?
How easy it would have been for the rich man to look after Lazarus. He was probably so rich that he wouldn’t even had noticed the money and food if it had been used to help Lazarus. And that’s the really sad part of the story about an eternal life of torment for such a little sacrifice that he could have made in his short lifetime.
This is a call to us to see if we, the church, have created barriers that have stopped people from discovering the grace of God that Lazarus discovered. I know that issues like same-sex marriage, euthanasia, abortion and other ethical issues are important issues but they should not become our first or primary focus because we easily lose focus on being the body of Christ and honouring both the Great Commission – making disciples of all nations and the Great Commandment – love God and neighbour.
But it seems to be that that is what the world knows us for. Our first and primary focus is the desire for God’s love and mercy to be experienced by everyone for it is God’s will that all people be saved. Too often the church has been known as the moral crusader rather than the bearer of Good News. And that has simply created a chasm between God and the world. We lose focus worrying about fixing the world and become side tracked taking on evil rather than being salt and light in the world
The Parable reminds us that God is going to bring justice which frees us to be the children of God. In this world he allows good and evil to mingle together because that was what we chose through our ancestors Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God by eating from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil.
This parable is not meant to make us feel guilty but vindicated during those times when life seems unfair. But it also stirs us into action to seek opportunities where we can help the plight of those suffering injustices so they can receive relief in this life but hopefully provide an opportunity to share with them a message of hope that God can give for the life to come.
We can identify with both Lazarus and the rich man. There are times when we feel the weight of the world upon us like Lazarus. But we are also like the rich man as we sometimes become blind to the needs of others as we focus just on ourselves. Have we created a chasm that has prevented someone from experiencing the blessings of God.
We are rich beyond measure because we have Jesus Christ in our lives but let us not become like the rich man and not share that richness with others.