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"When the Poor Blotchy Beggar Wins"

Palm Sunday Mar.20/16 Luke 16:19-31


If the twentieth century was the era of WARS - two great world wars - perhaps the 21st century is going to be the era of WALLS. People all over the globe are increasingly mobile, thanks to modes of transportation; and increasingly aware of where the regions of "haves" and "have-nots" are, thanks to the internet - so there is migration across borders in search of prosperity. South of our border, one popular presidential candidate has proposed building a wall between the United States and Mexico in order to keep out illegal immigrants.

The migrant crisis in Europe continues. At the border between Greece and Macedonia, about 14,000 refugees are camped near the village of Idomeini. Macedonia has sealed its border crossing so the refugees are stuck, unable to venture further into Europe. On Monday, about 1500 Syrians and Iraqis forded a swollen river attempting to circumvent the border fence - only to have hundreds rounded up and trucked back by Macedonian soldiers. The EU's Migration Commissioner on Tuesday while visiting the camp urged EU countries to resettle 160,000 refugees around the continent. He noted, "All our values are in danger today and you can see it here in Idomeni.I believe that building fences, deploying barbed wire, is not a solution." More than walls is needed.

On Tuesday, our son posted on his Facebook "wall" a saddening article from the New York Times about the grim state of affairs in South Sudan. "The Republic of South Sudan is not even five years old, but already 50,000 people have been killed in an ethnically driven civil war replete with mass rape, civilian massacres, countless people displaced, killings at hospitals and now children starving to death in sunshine-flooded pediatric wards, skin peeling off their little backs like paint chips flaking off old wood...Aid organizations are racing to position emergency food for the nearly three million South Sudanese edging toward starvation." Wow! Yet as I commented on the post - "But how many over here will actually care?" After decades of hearing woeful tales from Africa, are we "hitting the wall" in terms of compassion fatigue?

We are now a global village. If a dictator sneezes in North Korea, we hear about it instantly in our news feed. The whole world, with its problems, is lying at our gate.

The parable we hear today from Jesus involves a wall, too. There's a wall with a gate, and someone waiting outside in need. To whom does Jesus address this parable? Who's His intended audience?

In recent weeks we've been looking at the parables in Luke 15 about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or 'prodigal') son. The context for these was the group of Pharisees and scribes muttering about Jesus' popularity amongst tax collectors and 'sinners' (15:1f). After the parable of the Shrewd Manager at the start of chapter 16, we get another indication from gospel-writer Luke about whom Jesus might be addressing with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Lk 16:14 "The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus." Pharisees - religious types, experts keen at following the laws of Moses and the traditions of the elders. Lovers of money: perhaps their zeal for God's ways was actually overshadowed by their affinity for riches. Can we relate? Isn't it nice to save money on your income tax, maybe even get a refund? Isn't it rewarding to see that RRSP slowly mount up year after year?

An educational short video has been circulating on social media called, If the World were 100 People. It represents graphically distribution of education, shelter, hunger, languages, religions, and finances. Consider the top 16 people in the latter category. 9 people make between $20-50/day; 6 people make $50-90/day; and just 1 person makes more than $90/day. Where would you fit in then amongst those 100 people? Are you pretty close to the top? Might Jesus be directing this parable at you - or me, if we happen to be "lovers of money"?

We find the basic setup for the story in verses 19-21 of Luke 16. "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores." Note how Jesus juxtaposes luxury and need. The rich man - who remains nameless, but has been called "Dives" (Latin for 'rich man') - is covered in expensive purple clothes; Lazarus is covered in sores, ulcers associated with sickness or pain. The rich man has so much to eat that scraps fall from his table; Lazarus longs to eat those scraps - perhaps is in competition with the dogs to grab something to eat when said scraps are tossed outside. Even the beggar's name is ironic - "Lazarus", literally "God a help"; God better help him, because it seems nobody else is going to! The most attention he can hope for is from some meandering mongrels who come and lick his sores.

And, in between the two men, one in luxury, the other in rags, stands the gate. A wall separating them, ensuring the two states never mix. Protecting the man with plenty from intrusion.


That goes on for some time, but eventually both men meet their earthly destiny. Vv22-27 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side.The rich man also died and was buried.In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us."

There's a big switch, isn't there? All Lazarus' life, nobody pays him the slightest attention, except maybe to toss him near the rich man's gate (the Greek verb suggests 'thrown' rather than 'laid' - as if contemptuously, roughly). But once he dies, suddenly there's an angel escort straight to the most coveted place in Paradise, Abraham's bosom. Now, Jesus is using conventional Jewish concepts of the day, so it's not wise to bank on all these details as an exact description of the afterlife: the juxtaposition after death may be for emphasis, just as the 2 characters were right across a wall from each other during life. "Hell" v23 in NIV is better translated as NLT puts it, "the place of the dead", Gk 'Hades', or as Old Testament Hebrew would have rendered it, "Sheol". It's the shadowy holding bin where all the dead go awaiting final judgment.

But Dives the 'rich man' is getting a head start on his eternal fate. He is in "torment" vv23,28, a word meaning "to cause intense pain". Also described in vv24f as being "in agony" - v 24 mentions 'fire'. Yikes!

By contrast, the former beggar Lazarus enjoys being at Abraham's side, at his 'bosom' - a place of intimate familiarity, as John the beloved disciple leaned back against the Master in John 13:23(25) to ask a private question. Lazarus, who for so long throughout his earthly life was barred from that which he longed for, is now relishing a special closeness with the most esteemed Jewish patriarch of all. A coveted place of exalted favour and privilege, really.

And between the two, as Abraham points out, "a great chasm has been fixed" (16:26), so that no one could cross over even if they wanted to. There is a wall in Paradise; a great divide, an untraversable partition, a final separation.

We live in an age that celebrates inclusion and abhors separations or divisions. Hell has fallen on hard times because people don't like to think there's any final accountability for their actions. They don't want to answer to an eternal Judge. Hollywood might have us just float up into the night sky as stars shining brightly.

But the picture the Bible paints - and this is Jesus talking here - is quite different. Heaven and Hell are real. The Son of Man in judgment will separate the sheep and the goats: Mt 25:32 "All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Acts 17:31 "For he [God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." Think about that next time you're trying to explain the significance of Easter and Jesus' resurrection to someone: the empty tomb is a warning to us all we will be judged; as the stone was rolled away, our own most private deeds will be uncovered. Romans 2:16 "...God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ..."1Corinthians 4:5 When the Lord comes, "He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts.At that time each will receive his praise from God."

There will be a final separation of the righteous and the unrighteous. This gives meaning to life, else all would be random consequence-free chaos. And don't suppose you will get a second chance to repent after you die. Hebrews 9:27 "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment..." Get square with God today, before it's too late.


There are two main downfalls the rich man succumbs to. His SELFISH DISPOSITION, and his SPIRITUAL DISINTEREST.

First, note his SELFISH DISPOSITION. He thinks everything revolves around HIM. It's all about HIS comfort, HIS needs, HIS satisfaction. Even in Hades, his torment in the fire juxtaposed with Lazarus' being comforted close to Abraham OUGHT to have tipped him off he'd made a fundamental mistake somewhere! But no, even in Hades, the rich man has not learned his lesson. Note the selfishness of the pronouns: "Have pity on ME...cool MY tongue...I am in agony..." It's an understandable trap to fall into when you live in an instant-gratification, self-serve society. It's all about me, me, ME!

One futuristic animation I watched this week depicted the grocery store of tomorrow. You don't even have to get out of you car, you just drive into the store like a gas station and the entire store's inventory scrolls past your window on revolving shelves. You pick off what you need, drive ahead to the cashier, and pay. The idea has been patented by a Russian inventor! My comment was, "How lazy can we get?!"

Dives is selfish; and he's used to having servants run around to address his every whim. His selfishness nurtures the exploitation of others, using others to serve him. He even appeals to Abraham to elevate Lazarus just a tad above the status of "beggar" to make him an errand-boy! Vv24,27 "...send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue...send Lazarus to my father's house...let him warn them..." He is so self-focused and rude as to imagine he has the right to order Lazarus away from his privilege place at Abraham's side and send him on delivery-duty! The rich man just doesn't get it. All his life he's been treating people as objects to address his own person comfort and concerns. That's got to stop.


So, the rich man's downfall is, first, his SELFISH DISPOSITION; second, his SPIRITUAL DISINTEREST. Not just his, but his siblings', too - they're all cut from the same [purple] cloth. When he's told he can't order Lazarus to dip his finger and water and cool his tongue, he begs Abraham to send Lazarus on a different mission. Vv27-31 "...Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers.Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

How hard this must have been for Jesus to say - knowing His own painful death on the cross and glorious resurrection was forthcoming! But it acknowledges human spiritual deadness won't even be awakened by news of someone rising from the dead. We see proof of this in John 11: Jesus resuscitates the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany, curiously ALSO named "Lazarus". What is the reaction of the religious leaders? Are they amazed, converted, coming repentant to the Lord Jesus who has so dramatically displayed His awesome power? Not at all. John 11:53; 12:10 "So from that day on they plotted to take his life...The chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well..." Just as Christ said, these lovers of money would not be convinced "even if someone rises from the dead."

Abraham explains: "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them." Jesus here seems to be assigning remarkable importance to the power of Scripture to address people who are spiritually awake. By implication, Scripture is potentially even more convincing than someone rising from the dead! Don't underestimate the power of God to speak to your soul through the Bible, His Word written. Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."


I'd like to close today with a story (source: Ace Collins, Stories behind the Traditions and Songs of Easter) of 2 men who both knew how to use wealth well - much better than Dives did! Theodulph of Orleans was born in 760 in Italy, of royal blood. "As a child he enjoyed wealth and protection not afforded to most people during those times. Theodulph also had the benefits of education and a staff of servants at his beck and call. In today's language he had it made. Yet despite living in a world that demanded nothing of him, Theodulph heard a call stronger than the lure of luxury and power. After reading Jesus' challenge to the rich young man Theodulph gave up his money, property, and title and surrendered his life to the Lord's service.

"Overnight the former nobleman joined the ranks of the commoner as a priest. In this capacity he sought out the poorest of the poor, feeding them while he shared the story of Christ's birth life death and resurrection. His devotion to the least of these made him incredibly popular with the region's people and an enigma to the royals whose lifestyle he had once shared. Yet just as these men and women of privilege did not forget Theodulph, he did not forget them. In fact, he constantly looked to them for the funding needed to provide for those in dire circumstances.

"As he continued his mission in God's service, Theodulph migrated to a monastery in Florence, Italy. The twenty-one year-old priest's passion for living out Christ's directives toward the poor caught the eye of one of the world's most powerful men. Charlemagne ordered Theodulph to come to his castle. After their meeting, the ruler appointed the priest as the Bishop of Orleans and moved him to France. Though again affiliated with the ruling class, Theodulph still devoted most of his time to the sick, the orphans, the poor, and the lost. For the next 37 years, Theodulph was the bridge between the royal family and the country's poor.

"Because of Theodulph's influence, Charlemagne took an interest in not just feeding the people of his kingdom but educating them. Under Theodulph's guidance, priests across France set up schools devoted to teaching the children of poor families. For the first time, common people enjoyed a privilege once reserved for only the elite. Such was his status that Theodulph had only to ask, and the financing for God's work was set in motion. Yet when Charlemagne died, Theodulph, who had so closely followed the steps of Christ, found his life suddenly mirroring that of Paul.

"France's new ruler, Louis the Pious, was intimidated by Theodulph's power. He felt the bishop's popularity and influence might challenge his own authority, so he charged Theodulph with treason and ordered him to spend the remainder of his days in prison. The bishop was now in his late fifties. Unable to reach out to the poor he so deeply loved, he turned to those who had also lost their freedom. They became his flock. As he shared the gospel with these men, a fact became clear in his mind. The king who had imprisoned him was nothing more than a figurehead The only real King was the one he had served since the day he had given up his title and possessions. Power was therefore not in the royal castle but in the hearts of all who believed in Christ as King...In his cell, Theodulph picked up a quill and wrote his revelation in verse form. It would not only be his greatest message but also his most lasting. He taught his new song to those around him. From behind the walls he and those who worshiped with him sang out All Glory, Laud, and Honour with such strength and passion even the king was able to hear it."

Theodulph stewarded his wealth and his talent well! He was not trapped in love of money, but loved and lauded Christ the Supreme Giver - and many others were blessed through him as a result. Let's pray.