rich or poor?
16th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 21) LSB #’s 349, 570, 814
Text – Luke 16:19-20
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple & fine linen & who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores.
RICH OR POOR
“Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! …If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, & buried with a stake of holly through his heart!” Such was the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Later that evening, said Scrooge, caustic & cold as ever, “What do you want with me? Who are you?” “Ask me who I was.” “Who were you then?” said Scrooge, raising his voice. “In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley,” & …the spectre raised a cry, & shook its chain & wrung its shadowy hands. “You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, & yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, & of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?” Scrooge trembled more & more.
“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight & length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy & as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!” “Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”
“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, & is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house – mark me! – in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; & weary journeys lie before me!”
“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, & never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”
Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the spectre going on at this rate, & began to quake exceedingly. “Hear me!” cried the Ghost. “My time is nearly gone… I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance & hope of escaping my fate. A chance & hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.” “You were always a good friend to me,” said Scrooge. “Thank’ee!”
“You will be haunted,” resumed the Ghost, “by Three Spirits.” Scrooge’s countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost’s had done. “Is that the chance & hope you mentioned, Jacob?” he demanded, in a faltering voice. “It is.”
In A Christmas Carol, miserly old Ebenezer Scrooge is then visited by three spirits. They arrive at the behest of the ghost of Jacob Marley, who had been Scrooge’s business partner. The 1st two show Scrooge scenes from his past & present. Scrooge’s 3rd spirit visitor is The Ghost of Christmas Future. He shows Ebenezer Scrooge what lies ahead – death & disdain.
In Luke 16, we read, “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple & fine linen & who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores.” (16:19-20 ESV)
“The poor man died & was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died & was buried, & in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes & saw Abraham far off & Lazarus at his side.” (16:22-23 ESV) These words of Jesus pull back the curtain to show us something you & I urgently need to see before it’s too late. During his life the rich man did not even notice the poor man who was at his gate every day. Now, in the afterlife, he sees Lazarus & wants him to alleviate his suffering.
Ebenezer Scrooge was shown the path he was on, & he repented. However many chances the rich man had, he did not. In both stories the curtain is pulled back so that you & I can see the future & what it brings. This is helpful because most all of our time & energy is caught up in the pressing things of our day.
Thinking back to September 11th of 2001, how rapidly did the trivial concerns of life vanish? In just one year, most of us will barely remember what was pressing about September 25th of 2022. How much time & energy do we spend on eternal things, the things that moth & rust cannot destroy; the things that time cannot erase?
As Jesus speaks in the Gospel reading, He sets up a clear contrast between two men. The rich man represents the Pharisees whom Jesus had just described as “lovers of money.” (16:14 ESV) The poor man stands for all the outcasts of Jewish society, the deplorables of His day. They were the people who actually heard & welcomed what Jesus taught.
The rich man dressed in fine clothes & feasted every day. The average person might feast three times a year. The poor man, rather than being covered in fine clothing, is covered by sores & longs to be fed with what simply falls off the rich man’s table. His life on earth is pathetic & pitiable, & yet, it invokes no sympathy in the heart of this rich man.
The poor man clearly qualifies as the rich man’s neighbor, but the rich man’s heart is so full of himself that, although he knows Lazarus by name, he never once bothers to take notice of him. He never once stops to provide any care for him, as the Good Samaritan provided care for his neighbor. In telling this story, Jesus has zeroed in from the outer contrast of rich & poor to the extreme need of Lazarus & the extreme lack of love on the part of the rich man. Having made that point, Jesus shifts the scene from earth to heaven & hell.
Now, the man who was rich on earth is in such extreme need that he is longing for just a drop of water on the tip of Lazarus’ finger. He still sees Lazarus only as someone inferior to himself. However, now, Lazarus is the one who is feasting sumptuously.
In responding to the rich man, Abraham says, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things…” That word remember means to read back & interpret the events of his past, but in the Gospel reading, Jesus is calling you & me to read back & interpret the events of our past. Have we been lovers of money who ignored the needs of our neighbors?
The excessive lifestyle of the rich man on earth revealed that inwardly his heart was not generous & merciful but proud & arrogant. Spiritually speaking, he was the poor man all along. The only conclusion for the Pharisees is this: if they don’t stop scoffing at Jesus’ teachings, they will find themselves with the rich man in eternal torment.
What conclusion do we draw from hearing the teachings of Jesus? You & I also have the words of Moses & the Prophets. Are we hearing them? In the Gospel reading, Jesus is giving us an urgent warning. Upon hearing this, all the trivial concerns of our lives should vanish. Only Jesus should remain as the focal point of our thoughts, words & deeds.
Only Jesus should remain, because He is the source of our repentance, precisely because He is seldom the focal point of our thoughts, words & deeds. As Lazarus was desperately in need of care, you & I are desperately in need of a repentant heart. Jesus came to earth in order to release prisoners of sin, death & hell, & though we believe we still struggle with unbelief.
There’s a lot of emphasis in the churches of our nation on the fact that Jesus loves
everyone, but the preaching of repentance has been downgraded, if not outright eliminated. The implication of many sermons is that it doesn’t matter if we reject some of the things that Jesus teaches. That is a dangerous road to travel & it’s not what Jesus reveals to us in the reading from Luke 16. Verse 31 closes with Jesus telling us:
“If they do not hear Moses & the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” You know how that has turned out. Jesus did rise from the dead & many people still reject, not only His warnings against sin & death, but they also reject His invitations to life.
Jesus offers them a heart focused on their Creator, but they prefer a heart that is focused on themselves & upon what they desire. Jesus offers to remove the chains that fetter them, the chains of their own making, & they refuse.
On the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of inequity & injustice in this life, but the cause is not certain people, or groups of people. Sin is the cause, the sin that lives in the heart of every single person on earth. What disturbs so many is that God does not fix that inequity or injustice in this life. His Son paid the price for it, but it still goes on.
Heaven is where God makes all things perfectly just, & there will be perfect equity because there will be no suffering of any sort. Kindness & generosity result from trusting Jesus. In heaven, everyone will be kind & generous for all of forever. Amen.
Just as I am, without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me & that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings & fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Just as I am; Thy love unknown has broken every barrier down; now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Amen. LSB 570:1, 3, 6.
 Dickens, Charles; A Christmas Carol, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet