I encourage you to read the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus found in Luke 16: 19-31. I want us to think about how we treat people in need. Are we generous? Are we guarded? Do we help a few times and then build up boundaries so that a person does not become too dependent? Do we consistently ignore them? Be honest. How do you respond, and how do you feel about the way you respond?
One of the points this story is making is that the rich man had every resource and occasion to help this poor man named Lazarus, but he ignored him. The only comfort Lazarus received was the dogs licking his wounds! When they both die, the rich man is tormented in the flames of Hades while Lazarus is in heaven with Abraham. The rich man begs for mercy. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus, the man he ignored, to bring him a touch of water to cool the flames. What a bold request this is! There is no mercy for this man. He must endure in the afterlife the agony that Lazarus endured during his earthly life. The explanation Abraham gives the rich man is that he, and his relatives, have had every opportunity to learn about ethical living through Moses (the Torah, or the Law) and the prophets. Not even someone returning from the dead could convince them. Ouch!
The lesson is still valuable for us today. We know what is right. We know what is good and pleasing to God. We know the words of the prophet Micah, “O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). We want to argue our way around doing what is right, and we hope to have mercy to accommodate our shortcomings. We might be tempted to ignore those Old Testament books and skip to the Gospels and Epistles. However, to do that is to misunderstand Jesus. We ignore the words on which he based his life. He did not come to abolish the previous teachings and prophecies but to fulfill them. Jesus rose from the dead, and sadly, we still do not heed his words. Some claim we need not have faith in Jesus but have the faith of Jesus. Then, the hungry would be fed, the sick would receive healthcare, the lonely would not be forgotten, and all the “isms” that plague our society would no longer exist.
The good news is Lazarus did not have to earn his way into eternal blessings. He did nothing, and he received a favored place in the bosom of Father Abraham. So, I suppose a takeaway for us is what we DON'T DO matters; our lack of actions has consequences, perhaps even eternal ones!
If we cannot relate to the wealth of the rich man, perhaps we can understand his desire to tell others to heed the words of the law and the prophets. Perhaps our vantage point as followers of the resurrected Lord might be to heed this parable; after all, he did come back from death. Can we not listen to him? What more would it take?