Updated: Jan 31
In today’s readings we heard a series of names: Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar, Hanamel, Shallum, Anathoth, Baruch, Neriah, Mehseiah, and Lazarus. To most of us, we hear these names and it is like when the parents speak in a Charlie Brown television special:
“Wah, wah, wah, wah.”
To turn this sermon into a lesson in Hebrew, and a class in how names have meanings, would take more time than a twelve-minute – 1300 word sermon will allow. Therefore, I will only tell you the meaning of one name … that of Lazarus.
We all recognize the name Lazarus, as he was the brother of Martha. We also remember how he fell sick and died, while Jesus was away. They put Lazarus’ body in a tomb; but upon his return, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
“Lazarus, come out!” is what Jesus ordered. And, Lazarus did just that.
When you plug in the Hebrew meaning of the word, “lazarus,” Jesus actually said, “God will help, come out!”
The word “lazarus” means, “God will help, “God is my help,” or “Whom God helps.”
With that lesson taught, look at how the parable told by Jesus is symbolic of the paradox of those living beings who help themselves (but not others) and those who cannot help themselves (but serve others). One goes to Hades. The other, “God will help” to Heaven.
In a metaphorical way, Jeremiah was seen by the King Zedekiah as though he was “covered with sores,” simply because every time the king heard Jeremiah speak, it was to tell the king how sinful he was and how painful the fall of Jerusalem was going to be.
Those were sore topics to the king, especially when the Babylonians occupied Judah and held siege over Jerusalem at the time of this part of Jeremiah’s book. Only the dogs of Jerusalem would lick Jeremiah’s wounds, as a prisoner who longed for rulers and leaders to drop one crumb of interest his way, asking him to have the LORD tell them how to get out of the mess they were in.
Instead, mindless followers of orders would bring Jeremiah a bowl of gruel, some moldy bread, and a cup of sour wine, figuratively licking his open sores.
The deaths of King Zedekiah and Jeremiah, which eventually did come, would parallel the meeting of Lazarus – the one Whom God helped – and the “rich man” who did nothing to help the poor man – the last king of Judah. The rich man/king saw someone he recognized, as Zedekiah would recognize his servant, the prophet Jeremiah. He called up him to serve him still … to moisten his finger in water and cool the king’s tongue.
If only King Zedekiah had asked that of Jeremiah before Jerusalem fell. If only the heated tongue had not condemned Jeremiah and brought about the stiff neck of stubbornness. After justice had been served, Zedekiah’s good times were over and Jeremiah’s hard times brought him reward. A chasm kept the two from doing more than see one another, maybe wave and point.
So, it becomes possible to see how Jesus was telling a story that had already been lived out, one that was worthy of mentioning then, because … as the saying goes, “History repeats.”
The aspect of five more brothers of the “rich man” remaining, to repeat his offenses of their lost relative means the story continues. Five more important, rich men needed to be warned not to lead the people poorly, or they too would suffer the same fate. Perhaps, generally speaking, more rich men would become the Pharisees of Roman-controlled Jerusalem, who, like their “rich man” descendant (Zedekiah), would be living lives that would not honor the LORD, while ignoring the poor.
No matter what the number is, the same result will always come to be … if you do not live by the Law of Moses and you do not listen and obey the prophets of the LORD, then there is a place that is not heavenly awaiting.
In this parable today, we pick up reading at verse 19, in chapter 16 of the Book of Luke. Today’s part is a continuation of the appearance of Jesus, where just before Jesus had told the parable of the bad manager. We read that a couple of weeks ago. In that parable’s verses, Luke wrote about how the Pharisees grumbled about Jesus hanging out with sinners – tax collectors. He even dined with them!
So the same audience can be assumed for this similar parable of the rich man and Lazarus – the one God will help. The same ears are meant to overhear this parable, as the Pharisees and Temple Priests are the ones robed in the finest, purple linen. They are the rich man, each of them, and Luke said as much.
The Pharisees, just like King Zedekiah, represent the ones who say they believe in God and the Law, the ones who give God the credit for making them become wealthy; but they are the ones who in reality do the least, as far as demonstrating faith in God. They accuse others of sins, often causing the poor increased pain and suffering, when not ignoring the lame and ill.
While it isn’t expressly stated by Jesus, Paul did a good job of pointing out how little the “rich man” does not share with others. Not only do they not share, they cheat, they steal, they connive against others, and they commit all kinds of evil making sure they retain wealth and the power over others. They desire riches more than God’s presence within them. Perhaps, their greatest evil is flaunting their wealth before the poor, while claiming God has made them rich, as a sign of their greater faith.
The reality is, as Paul pointed out, the Pharisees suffer from a love of money, which is the root cause of much evil. A couple of weeks ago, we read how Paul confessed to having been a terrible sinner. He had acted as a god (blasphemy), persecuting others for their beliefs, doing so violently (he stoned the accused to death). During those days, Paul was named Saul, and he most likely voted to keep the Pharisees in office, if he was not a card-carrying member of the Pharisees Party himself. But, Paul had to have a conversion … an epiphany … in order to give up his love of money.
The love of money being the root of all evil is a repeating theme in the Holy Bible.
While everyone recognizes that, it would seem that the “rich men” Jesus told parables about then no longer go to churches today.
What priest or pastor would dare preach a sermon about today’s Gospel reading without stepping on the toes of one or more of the largest contributors?
Jesus was talking about the Jewish Temple and the Pharisees … right? Not Christians. After all, didn’t Paul stay on the road raising money to keep the new Christian Church alive?
The message about being rich often comes across just like the names we read today in Jeremiah. The themes of being rich, ignoring the poor, and doing evil for the love of money, they can come across like, “wah, wah, wah, wah.”
Just like a child being told the dangers of crossing the street alone, or the safety of cleaning one’s room. It’s time to tune out.
“Nah nah nah nah … I’m not listening.”
After all, can’t we all say things like:
“I’m sure you are talking about someone else, because there are plenty of other people with money, much more money than I have.”
“I work hard for my money and I’m not about to help some lazy people who are only looking for handouts.”
“I give many dollars each year to charities, including this church … and I have the income tax records that prove what I claimed as charitable deductions.”
It is a hard topic to talk about, because we all know the world stops spinning if someone doesn’t pay the rotation bill.
We are all “covered in the sores” of not having enough money, even if some have past money woes have healed … maybe no longer visible. Still, our wants make it seem many other economic shortfalls are still oozing and festering.
The sad thing about a parable like the one today, where the rich are clearly told to stop being selfish BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE, is this:
The poor always hear this message and they always believe it applies to them. The poor are so used to being poor, they will always try to give what little they have left, just to keep from losing Heaven. It is their only hope, all they have left, not to lose.
They know the rich ignore them. They have been taught by the Pharisees that they are poor because they cannot make themselves rich. Perhaps, if they could have just a little more faith?
“Please, sir, could you show me how to put more faith on my plate?”
Lazarus … the man whose name means, “God will help” … “longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table.”
The Greek word written is “epithumeo,” which means, “to set the heart upon, i.e. long for, covet, desire, lust after.” As the translation says “longed,” know that the verb, “longed,” means, “earnest, heartfelt desire, especially for something beyond reach”
So, Jesus said the one Who God will help (Lazarus) had an, “Earnest, heartfelt desire for a morsel … for a crumb … to satisfy hunger pangs.” That is a powerful word, as it paints a picture of how so many poor people lay at the gate of some “get rich” scheme, longing to somehow get something from the table of some icon of wealth. We all have urges to eat – hunger – which is a need that must be met, or we die of starvation. The symbolism of longing to satisfy hunger for what falls from the table of the rich is where we all come into this story.
However, we are all the “rich man” just the same. Everyone here has more than enough to meet one’s needs. By that, I do not want to know how much you have in your retirement fund, your inheritance account, your land holdings, or your investment portfolio. Some may have great material wealth, while some may be materially comfortable, and some may be “just getting by, but no complaints.” Some may only be rich in faith and life in general, happy to go share in fellowship at their church.
Because we are all rich, in a way unique to each of us, we must remember what Paul said. “As for those who in this present age are rich … do not be haughty, or set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
“Enjoyment” is based on contentment. Like the song goes, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Be happy with what you have, and if you can help others, if you can share so those who are without can also be happy, do so.
Over the past three years, I have had reason to travel quite frequently. When one travels, one always finds a need to refill the car with fuel. I have lost count of how many times I have been approached at gas stations, by seemingly ordinary people who, “Ran out of money and gas, and have a long way still to go.” They always ask, “Can you spare something … anything?”
To be honest, I rarely have money in my wallet or pocket, simply because I have become adept at debit card usage. When I have had a few coins in my pocket, I have given that away. At times, I have explained, “I have no cash.”
I do not believe these people are being honest about their need for cash, or about how anyone could go on a road trip expecting their fuel costs to be cared for by begging. However, one time I was approached by someone with a different request.
While holding the pump in the car’s fuel hole, I was approached by a man who immediately saw I was not giving away money, but he explained, “I don’t want money. I wanted to know if you could buy me a sandwich inside the store?” I said, “Sorry,” and he apologized and walked away.
He began happily leading me to a place where they had bottled juices and pointed to the one he wanted. I told him to get it. Then, instead of a sandwich, he chose a pack of cheese crackers. I asked if there was anything else and he said, “no.” The total came to about $3.50. The Indian fellow who worked there gave me a look like I wasn’t the first to fall for this man’s request, but I paid, the man thanked me, and I left.
As I was getting on the Interstate, it dawned on me that the man was probably putting the juice and the crackers back on the shelf, trading them in for a quart of beer. I hoped that was not the case, as I wanted to help someone who seemed down on his luck. Inside, I felt good even if I had been “tricked.”
The point of today’s parable is more about how many times we totally ignore all the requests for money, simply because we know most of them are scams or tricks to get our money. Jesus himself said, “There will always be poor,” and “There are too many poor for me to help them all.” The point is not how many dollars we give to charity or how much spare change we hand out the window to the beggar on the street corner. It is more about not being hardened to giving of ourselves.
It is more important to be there for our children, making their lives develop in positive ways, than it is to be a slave to work, when the result of those toils are much more than one needs to support a family. It is not up to anyone to tell you how much to give, and in what manner you help others. It is up to you and your heartfelt desire.
Sometimes, seeing someone at a restaurant short the waiter on the tip, or overhearing the waitress complain about times being tight, it might be a good time to put a couple of extra dollars into your tip … then just leave without saying anything.