Trinity 1(2014)
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
June 22, 2014
Central Passage
Luke 16:19-31

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus was told by Jesus to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were wealthy and, as the evangelist Luke writes just a few verses earlier, loved money. So our Lord tells them a parable about wealth and poverty, about how wealth doesn’t keep us from hell and how poverty doesn’t keep us from being comforted in the bosom of Abraham.

But He spoke in a parable so that hear they would not understand. But you have ears to hear, ears opened by the Spirit, so that you hear and understand.

The parable is not about earthly wealth. If it were, the conclusion is that Moses and the Prophets teach that we go to heaven if we care for the poor, and that being poor is itself a virtue worthy of being comforted in the heavenly places. But Moses and the Prophets don’t teach that, and neither do the apostles. Being poor is not more virtuous than being rich. And no one – poor or rich – will be comforted in the bosom of Abraham because they were generous and kind to others.

So instead of the parable being about earthly wealth, it’s about another sort of wealth. The wealth that the Pharisees really had. They were rich with money, no doubt, but they were also rich in position and knowledge. The Lord Jesus says of them that they sit in Moses’ seat, so that the people should listen to them. They had the Law and the Prophets, and they knew the Scriptures. They were rich in that they had the ways of God before them. But they didn’t help the people with this wealth. Instead, the horded it to themselves, laying heavy loads on the people but refusing to even lift a finger to help. It wasn’t physical burdens they laid on the people, but spiritual. They preached and taught that one must keep the Law to please God and to be received by Him. That’s the heaviest burden for who can keep the Law? And they didn’t lift a finger to help meaning that they didn’t preach the mercy of God in Christ, but they should have as the Lord says to them, “If you believed Moses you would believe Me for Moses wrote of me.” (John 5:46)

So the Pharisees were rich in knowledge of God and in the ways of God. But they didn’t share that wealth with anyone. Which means they didn’t really hear Moses and the Prophets who everywhere teach God as merciful and the righteous justifier of those who call out to Him, not of those that keep the Law. And what else to poor people do but call out for mercy from the rich? But the Pharisees couldn’t give their wealth away because they themselves did not understand it.

So our Lord rebukes the Pharisees and those like them who know the way of the Lord but do not practice it. And the way of the Lord is the way of mercy, which is what poor Lazarus received.

The parable is also a sermon on how we are to see ourselves and what it means to depend upon God. It is meant to show the Pharisees – who are called to repentance in the parable – and all of us how we are to think of ourselves. We are to think of ourselves as poor Lazarus. Not that we earn heaven by our poverty – for who here is so poor as Lazarus was? And not that if we suffer injustice here we will automatically go to heaven, for many suffer injustices and still never know the Christ. Instead, the poverty we suffer is in our own righteousness. That’s what the Pharisees missed. Their wealth was not their own, but belonged to another, to Jesus. They were poor just as all mankind is poor before God. We have no works, no righteousness to offer Him that He would consider us and reward us for it.

So we are rich in one way and poor in quite another. We are rich in that we have Moses and the Prophets, even the apostles. We have the way of the Lord and we should walk in His ways, showing mercy and loving all people. We should share with them our bread and our Lord. When a Christian is living the way of Christ he is most concerned about the salvation of others and not at all concerned about his own well being or reputation. That way nothing impedes him from blessing others and praying for all. But when we horde the wealth and do not show mercy but expect that we deserved our wealth or that our wealth is for us – the only reason to have wealth is to help others – then we are like the Pharisees who missed the point.

But we are also quite poor. Not with money or in Christ, but in ourselves. We must be invited in for nothing we have – not our good works or our pedigree – earns us an entrance into the heavenly kingdom. We must be fed like newborn infants, unable to feed or care for ourselves. We must depend upon another, namely Christ, for all our good and all our salvation.

We must wholly depend upon His mercy. That’s the lesson the Pharisees didn’t learn but that Lazarus would teach. The mercy of God is what comforts us and relieves us from the damnation of sin and wickedness. The mercy of God carries you to the bosom of Abraham. For here it says “angels” which means “messengers”. And messengers bring a message and beautiful are the feet of those messengers who bring good news. And the good news is that Christ Jesus has opened to you the gates of heaven and feeds you freely from His table. He is the bosom of Abraham that comforts you, like a mother comforts her child by nestling her close to her.

So learn from the rich man to give the mercy of God to everyone, then you will have heard Moses and the Prophets. And learn from poor Lazarus to depend wholly on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, for then, too, will you have heard Moses and the Prophets.

+ In Nomine Iesu +