The Rich Man And Lazarus

September 30, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Luke 16:19-31

An Exhortation For Almsgiving And Charity?

1. What was read in today's gospel reading is a pretty dreadful tale. No other such parable from Jesus is found elsewhere in which he speaks like this on the world of the afterlife. "There was a certain rich man. He always wore purple clothing and soft fabrics, and he enjoyed all his time free living luxuriously every day." It is the story about how after the rich man died and was buried, he had come to be tormented with pain in the world of the afterlife.

2. Everyone, as you were listening to today's passage of scripture what were you thinking? Because the expression of "he enjoyed all his time free living luxuriously" suggests to us an image of something bad, I am somehow inclined to understand his being condemned in the afterlife. Yet on the other hand, I don't understand it completely. I am thinking there are plenty others who feel the same way as I do. I say that because the scripture does not actually say that the rich man was evil. That "he enjoyed his time living luxuriously" does not necessarily mean he put his money into immoral things; nor does the scripture say that his wealth was built by unjust exploitation of the poor. He could live enjoying himself and he didn't have to work. If you ask how's that, well, he had the money [not to have to work]. To get to the point, it's no more than that. So then why did he come to suffer in the afterlife?

3. Next I am focusing on the part of the story where there was a poor man named Lazarus in front of the gates of the rich man. The poor man died still poor. Thus, it seems to turn out that the reason the rich man came to suffer in the afterlife is that while he had so much wealth, yet he did not help the poor man; and also that while he lived a life of leisure he did not use his money on behalf of the poor man. That certainly seems evil to me. As a result then, when [we] are told he came to suffer in the afterlife, we can also see somewhat why.

4. So, did Jesus tell this parabolic story in order to teach "Don't use wealth for your pleasure only. Don't live luxuriously. Help poor people. Give charity. If you don't, you will encounter suffering in the afterlife like this rich man."? I don't think he did as we consider the setting in which this parable was given, however.

5. Let's back track just a bit and read verse fourteen, if you would. "The Pharisees, who are very attached to money, heard Jesus from beginning to end and ridiculed him," (verse fourteen). This is at the very beginning. Jesus spoke today's story in regard to them. The issue is the expression of "the Pharisees who are very attached to money." What kind of persons do you visualize [in this]? [The kind of persons who] save money for themselves and their families, but [who] would not be willing to use one cent for other persons. Or rather a person who thinks of only getting money from others. Is that the kind of image this is? However, though, [they do not fit that description] because "almsgiving and charity" are also included among the "righteous deeds" which the Pharisees have been practicing as their religious duty. They understood that it was a righteous act for those with money to give alms, and so they performed that duty. We don't know for sure whether or not they had an actual fixation for money in their hearts. Like the scripture does say here, they probably did have a strong attachment for money. However, since they were Pharisees, at least on the surface, it was impossible for them to live day to day like greedy moneybags absolutely never giving up donations for charity.

6. Therefore, the rich man who is found in the parable for today, appearing in the drama as he does in the nuance of "a person who doesn't give alms," [seems] to have nothing in the least to do with the Pharisees as they listen on. Since the lesson is "If you don't give alms, you will experience suffering in the afterlife," the Pharisee would, instead, be receptive to it because it was an opportunity for them to demonstrate their own righteousness. "I have been practicing the giving of alms perfectly."

God Cares

7. So, what is the point in the parable that Jesus gave? [The point] is not on that "he did not give alms," but on the rich man's "not caring." When Lazarus was at his front gate, he not only was not given food, but he wasn't even driven away. He wasn't even told to "Get outta here!" Nobody even showed any care for this man named Lazarus. He relates that it was only the dogs who had shown care for Lazarus.

8. "We are not to help" is not the same as "We are not to care" because even if one had donated a load of money to charity, even if one had given help in a specific way, it is possible for someone not to care for the very suffering of the person himself or herself, or for the very existence of the person himself or herself. Mother Teresa has a famous statement that she has used many times. "You may think that the opposite of love is hate, but the truth is it is apathy, not caring. It is the apathy in which one doesn't even care enough to hate." Wow, this indifference which is polar opposite to love has been described very intensely here. In that definition, the Pharisees hearing the story of this rich man, as well as we who are here in this place, are both every bit related to this topic. No one can claim because I am poor this parable has nothing to do with me. It is quite possible that a poor person can be apathetic towards other poor persons. Isn't it?

9. But it still isn't enough just to read between the lines in this parable of the rich man's "apathy." Not only is "the apathy" of a man spoken about here in this text, but also "the caring" by God. Lazarus was only noticed by the dogs. Lazarus died alone, in solitude, and he wasn't even buried. Lazarus was not cared about by anybody. However, there was Someone who did stop to notice Lazarus. There was Someone who took care of him. It was God. The scripture says, "He was taken up by the angels." It is saying, in short, that he was taken into [heaven] by God.

10. But then, what about the rich man? Didn't God care about the rich man? Yes, he did show great concern for him as well. His being judged shows that he did. God knew that while this man was alive he had received good things. How did he use those good things? How did he use it in relation to others? God cared very much about that. How did this man take care of others? How did he live together with others? Those are matters that God cares for and has every concern about; it is every bit his business. God took notice of both Lazarus and the rich man. How a person carries out his or her life under the circumstances in which a person is dealt is not something that God ever feels neutral or indifferent about.

11. In addition, it is important who is giving this parable. Jesus, the one in whom the care by God for humanity, the love of God for humankind has actually taken form and become manifested, is giving this parable. We live for just a few decades on this earth with puny short lives, but these lives of ours are most precious in the sight of God. That's why God sent even his only son into this world where we live, into this world so full of sin. He [allowed] his son to be crucified so that our sin would be forgiven, so that we would be able to live with God on this earth. Jesus knew that his very being and existence was truly a manifestation of God's caring for [people] and was a manifestation of God's love for [people].

12. This parable was given by such a Person as that. Thus, it is clear that the message is not merely the kind that says, "If you don't want to suffer in the afterlife, do good deeds while you're alive. Give alms." The next part of this parable shows this point quite well.

Incline Your Ears To The Scriptures

13. Please look beginning with verse twenty-seven. The rich man turns towards the father of the faith Abraham who is with Lazarus and cries out. "O father, I beg of you. Please send Lazarus to the house of my father. I have five brothers. Please have him inform them well so that they might never come to such a place of suffering, not them please." But, Abraham says, "Your brothers have Moses and the prophets. They should incline their ears to them." They have the books of the law of Moses and the books of the prophets. In other words, he was saying, "Don't they have the scriptures? Haven't they already been given messages from the Bible?" In response to this, the rich man still persists, "No, o father Abraham, if someone from the dead went to my brothers, they would surely repent." However, upon hearing this Abraham said to him, "If they do not incline their ears to Moses and the prophets, even if they had someone who had come back from the dead they would refuse to hear what that person says," (verse thirty-one).

14. The rich man thought that if a person who knows the world of the afterlife comes back from the dead and speaks of the suffering of the world of the afterlife and the gospel, anyone who heard it would repent. But, is that really true? Abraham said it was not true, that's what Jesus said as he told this parable.

15. As I mentioned earlier, the problem in this case is apathy, which is the opposite of love. Therefore, repentance means that a person becomes caring and loving. But if people are informed of how things are when they are dead, will they truly repent? If one is told that after you die you will go to a place of suffering, will anybody truly start caring and loving others? I don't think so.

16. As a matter of fact, the Pharisees listening to this had already believed in the world of the afterlife even though they were not told by anyone [from it]. In fact Jesus spoke this parable using reasoning around the world after death, in which the Pharisees believed. No one other than the Pharisees were believing that the place where one goes after death is divided according to people. So, because they wanted to go where the righteous people go, they wanted to go where Abraham is, they were practicing almsgiving as a religious duty. But, does love and care for others truly emerge out of such a position as theirs? No, it doesn't. Even thought they had given alms, it was only their own salvation that they thought about. Thus, they fulfilled their religious duty in order to be saved in a punctilious manner, and they did charitable deeds, however, they did not rejoice with Jesus in [the ways he delivered people], such as when a person who had been suffering with an illness for a long time was healed by Jesus, or when a person who had been possessed by evil spirits was set free by Jesus, or when a person who had been living in rebellion against God had turned to God; they had no joy. They had no concern for others. They had no love.

17. In this way then, caring and love for others never emerges out of a fear for the world after death or any such thing. Even if a person came back from the world after death, repentance or anything close to it would never occur because of it. Therefore, -- and we have something important here -- even this parable from Jesus that we read today must not be read as something which merely speaks of the world after death. Still less even, it must not be read as something that fans fear for the world after death because we should never expect that true repentance would come out of that. At worst what will come out of it is likely to be a selfish concern of how can we escape from post mortem suffering.

18. Abraham said, "Your brothers have Moses and the prophets. They should incline their ears to them." He says, "Don't they have the scriptures? Let them listen to the Bible." It is not a story about the world after death that the scriptures are speaking of. It is speaking of the God of love, who with great care and concern so graciously and completely is engaged with us as we live here on this earth now. Therefore, the Bible is a book that ultimately points to Jesus Christ as the very love of God.

19. The words of the Bible and Jesus Christ to whom the Bible points, indeed, lead us to true repentance. It is precisely because of the fact that we know that our existence is esteemed that we will come to esteem the existence of others. It is precisely because of the fact that we know that we are loved that we will come to take that first step of love towards our neighbors. The words of the Bible were read here today. Words we ought to hear were given. God has already begun a good work in us. God is engaged with us with great care for us even now. God loves us and the world so much that he gave Jesus Christ to us as we live in this world. This gospel, indeed, does release us from the cold prison of "apathy and indifference."