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The Poor Are Always With Us

Luke 16:19-31

The Rev. Jon Roberts

25 September


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz′arus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz′arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’”


Lazarus at the Door of the Rich Man, Frank Wesley 1923-2002

Riches may come and go,
But the poor are always with us.[1]

There is a metaphor used by our efforts in Stewardship to liken a person without God to one who is shipwrecked. There is nothing worse than being on a boat in the middle of nowhere, stranded perhaps in a deserted place. You are begging for someone to come along and give you aid. Someone will surely come to rescue you in your time of need. In these uncertain times, you are definitely poor.

Who has not been driving in their car when they come to that stoplight, and there is a moment of decision when you see that person holding a sign. They hold a cardboard sign asking for money. They may be a disabled veteran, they may be out of work, they may simply be poor. It gets to you. You may question, “Are they really poor”, “Are they being honest” or “Are they gaming the system?” At that moment, we would all do well to ask God, “Will you help me to be a help to others.” It may be that this person is a reminder who opens your heart for Maybe you do not feel God’s Spirit directing you to give money. Maybe it’s that sandwich you just bought, and you hold it out for them. another, somewhere in the course of that day. Being poor comes in many varieties and we should ask God each day, “Who are we called to help?” “Blessed are the poor.”
Today the application to this moral is going to be deep and wide, as it relates to the parable of Lazarus. Jesus tells the story about a rich man who is bothered by a poor man, Lazarus, who lies outside his house every day begging for food. He is, let’s say, “Shipwrecked.” He is begging for assistance. Be careful that we do not fall into the following trap. It is not fair to say all who are rich are wicked, as they are not, nor are all the poor virtuous, as they are not as well. Somewhere in the middle of this chasm we find the moral of the story.

In 1918 there was a monograph by Hugo Gressmann into this ancient tale, familiar to those found in Egyptian, Greek and Roman accounts.[2] It is the characterization of the rescued and the damned, a “Dante’s Inferno” story, if you will that describes the pitfall of not caring for the poor. There is heaven and hell and somewhere in between that divides us from being saved. Grossman’s account shows us a funeral scene for one who is rich and one who is poor. The rich man has a long procession to which there is no following. The poor man if buried under a simple mat. But after death, there is the saving grace for the poor man to be elevated, exalted. The rich man is lying in hell, tortured. It would be hard to imagine that our loving Lord Jesus, and His Father would ever want to torture mankind. Is heaven real? Absolutely, and so is hell. These two constructs are examples of God’s presence. Hell is absence from God. It is Sheol and the eternal pit. On Earth we ask, “Do we have the riches that separate us from the Almighty,” or are we the poor, forsaking what we have so that we can lay down our lives in order to receive? That is what Jesus was trying to get across to His audience in His day, what He continues to speak in our day.

In this parable Jesus does something very unique.[3] Out of all His parables, this is the only one when he gives a proper name to one of his subjects, “Lazarus.” This name means, “Helped by God.” Lazarus is the individual who is dying, and the rich man is the one who decides to do nothing for him, or for anybody. Riches are not to be held in a haughty way. The rich give as an expression of thankfulness for what God has given them. It should not be a guilted experience. It should be a natural one. Jesus is teaching his people that He is not trying to entertain them with a retelling of an ancient story about those who go to heaven and those who go to hell. He is pointing them to the real presence of God found in Him, the Messiah they have been waiting for. He is the Son of God to proclaim the good news to help the poor.

The people of His day were “tone-death” clutching to the inner workings of their will; a refusal to let go and to allow God in. This is the mortal battle that is ongoing between the rich and the poor. It is seen by those who clutch so tightly and those who are so vulnerable. This fear, not trusting in God, is a long story about those who are shipwrecked. In order to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we must be poor. This poverty is always with us, when we seek God’s will to come to our rescue. He wants to come to our aid, but He wants us to reach out and ask, every day.

Are you that poor? The story unfolds. The rich man is in misery. He cannot cross the chasm but looking beyond he sees Abraham and Lazarus by his side. He calls out for Abraham to send Lazarus to his aid, but he does not. Instead, Abraham tells him it’s too late. You should have understood your poverty while on earth when you were living. This is when the rich man tries to be humble. Concerned about his five brothers who are still on Earth, he calls upon the patriarch to send word, or even Lazarus, to warn them. At that time, Abraham says, “I sent them the Law and the Prophets and yet that was not enough.” Those with wealth must make every effort to look outside themselves, asking for God to help them when they are in a favorable position to help others. Those who are poor must make every effort to look inside themselves, asking God to help them when they are in a lowly position, to be helped by others. Selfishness can exist in either account or impoverish the soul. The mind can bankrupt the heart and the heart can overcommit the mind if we do not rely on Jesus to attend each.

The other element of teaching by Jesus is prophetic. He is intentionally using the name Lazarus, because in a short while, Jesus will be called to raise that man from the dead.[4] Even then, many did not believe. They went so far as to roll up their windows, put on their shades, look the other way and ignore God. Who does that? There is a connection between both the parable in St. Luke and the actual account in St. John. Jesus is showing them with this miracle; “This is your chance!” Does Jesus give us so many chances? How many times will our ship stall or become wrecked where we can expect him to bail us out? Will we ever let go of our strong will?

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the parable is an indicator of what is to come. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, here is a question for you: Did they believe Him at that time? No, they did not. Out of fear of letting go, they instead rushed Him to death. They cast Him out. That’s the danger.
We must claim our poverty. We must claim that we are poor without Christ. We must be willing to let Jesus help us and lead us. He has given us the accounts of Abraham, Moses and the prophets. He has given us himself. He has done so by entering in, crossing over, into this world to show us the way. He reminds us that it is not our will be done, but His will, will be done; on earth, as it is in heaven.
Riches may come and go.
But our poverty is always with us.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Hugo Gressmann, Interpreter’s Bible: Volume XIII, 1952, p.289
[3] Luke 18:19-31
[4] John 11

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