Luke 16:19-31; Jeremiah 32:1-3 and 6-15; 1 Timothy 6:6-19
During the last month the gospel according to Luke has taken us through Jesus’ parables. As we saw in our readings of the Gospel this morning, Luke put together some parables that share the same theme which is: reach out to those who are strayed; reach out to those who are lost from the right path; use your resources, your abilities, your talents, your imagination to help them come back home. Today we have the last parable, at least for now. This is a very well-known parable, and also a hard parable to interpret, especially if we take it away from the rest. This parable is not unique to Jesus, variants of the same parable have been found in other ancient cultures. However, it is unique among Jesus’ parables because it is the only one, he told in which the protagonist is named. The protagonist name is Lazarus, which is the Greek form of Eleazar, which means “one whom God has helped,”
The bridge that connects this parable with the others we read the previous Sundays are verses 13 and 15, Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money. The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” The rich man described in the parable as the manager described in the previous, both loved money more than people. Therefore, I believe that is the connection, the bridge between them.
When Jesus told this parable his purpose was to warn people to change before it was too late. Jesus meant to put in his audience’s hearts that besides highly valuing what we have, what we have earned, we must also value what God values-which is people. When Luke describes the rich man of the parable he says, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” It is easy from here -and I believe is fair to say- that what this man valued was cloth and luxury; he valued what was external and perishable and as the shrewd manager did, he did not value his soul. He was so into pleasing himself every day that during his whole life he ignored Lazarus, “the one who God has helped”; the one who laid at his gate longing to eat what fell from his table. He ignored the one surrounded by dogs; the one dogs came to lick his sores. What this person valued highly, cloth, luxury and himself was detestable to God’s sight.
Let us be clear, this parable is not a statement of wealth versus poverty. The rich man did not end in hell just because he was rich; Lazarus did not go the heaven just because he was poor. This parable does not teach either that it is sinful to be wealthy, or that poverty is a virtue. The problem with the rich man was that he loved money more than people; he valued thing that God did not value; he loved himself and did not love his neighbor. When this happens, money is not a resource anymore, it becomes an idol, a god with small “g.” Now, if this parable is not a statemen of wealth versus poverty, what is this parable about then? Well, this parable is about doing what God wants us to do with what we have received from him. Because what we do here on earth with what we have received from God, will decide -according to Jesus- our fate in eternity. When we think in a rich person, we always think in terms of wealth, but God has given us other kinds of richness, like talents, time, abilities and we have to give them a good use as well; because what we do with our time and talents will also determine our fate in eternity. Remember, everything God has given us, is according to Ephesians 4:12, “to equip his people for works of service.”
Some decades later after Jesus taught this parable, Timothy was left by Paul to be the pastor in Ephesus and he faced the same reality of people valuing things more than people. Paul knew what Jesus taught and in his first letter to Timothy he shared with him some advices. He warns that those, – who possible were members of Timothy’s church in Ephesus- who want to be rich, those who fail to find contentment will fall into temptation. They will be trapped by senseless and harmful desires as the man from Jesus’ parable. This is what Paul wrote to Timothy in his first letter chapter 6 verse 6-10, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
The parable we read from Luke and Paul’s advice to Timothy about the temptations and traps and the many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction have in them a very important question: Where and how, can we invest our resources so, we will not fall into temptation? Where and how, can we invest our talents and gifts, our time for us not to fall into temptations? To answer those questions let us remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” In other words, what our heart desire is where we will invest our wealth, time and talents.
What we do with what we have received is important. Remember Matthew 25, in that chapter Matthew shares the parable known as the sheep and goats, in verses 34 and 36, we find this, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” This parable is also known as the judgement of the nations. I believe it can also be called the judgement of our wealth, our gifts and our resources, because Jesus is judging the people for what they did or for what they did not do with what they had received. “I was hungry and thirsty”, it’s about what they did or did not with their money, did they help those in need? “I was in jail and sick and you visited me”, this is about what they did or did not with their time; “I was naked, and you clothed me”, it is about their talents. In the book of Acts chapter 9 verses 36 to 42 we find how women in the church of Joppa used to make cloth to give away to those who were naked or in need of cloth.
Those described in Matthew 25 went either to the left or to the right of the Lord or according to the parable we read this morning, to Abraham’s side or Hades. The side where Jesus put them was according to what they did or did not with those who were hungry, sick, in jail, naked or strangers. The same will be apply to us. Now, where and how do we invest our resources? Where and how do we invest our talents, and our time? Remember what Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Again, in other words, “what our heart desire is where we will invest our wealth.” Remember, what we do with what we have received will determine our place in eternity. Therefore, let us be wise and obedient; let us value what God values.