Rich Man, Poor Man

September 29th 2019 26th Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

The tie in between today’s readings: False Perspectives

Psalm 146: 6-10, Amos 6: 1; 4-7, 1Timothy 6:11-16, Luke 16:19-31

Our gospel reading today in Luke 16:19-31 contrasts the rich man, who had it all and went to Hades and Lazarus, the poor, crippled, sore ridden beggar, who died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom…

And being in torments, he cried out, “Father Abraham have mercy on me for I am in agony in this flame.”

Abraham answered, “Remember that in your life you received your good things and Lazarus received bad things, now he is comforted and you are in agony.”

Then he said, “I have five brothers, send Lazarus to them so they may be warned and not come here.”

Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let your bothers hear them.”

“Do you mean like this passage in Amos 6?” questioned the rich man.

Woe to
those who are at ease in Zion
And to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria,
The distinguished men of the foremost of nations,
Those who recline on beds of ivory
And sprawl on their couches,
And eat lambs from the flock
And calves from the midst of the stall,
Who improvise to the sound of the harp,
And like David have composed songs for themselves,
Who drink wine from sacrificial bowls
While they anoint themselves with the finest of oils,
Yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore, they will now go into exile at the head of the exiles,
And the sprawlers’ banqueting will pass away.

“Father Abraham, you don’t understand,” the rich man continued, “My brothers are too proud to see themselves in these passages. They need to be scared and shaken. If a ghost appears, that would terrify them into repentance.”

“Oh, my poor boy,” Abraham said, “It doesn’t work that way.”

Jesus is using this parable to shake the Pharisees out of their false perspectives. First, the culture at this time assumes that riches are rewards from God for good behavior. The wealthy should go to heaven, a train wreck of a beggar like Lazarus…no way! Secondly, instead of godliness, the Lord shows that affluence tends to make people arrogant and self sufficient. So, rather than being a blessing, Jesus is revealing that wealth can become an obstacle to a quest for God. On the other hand, the Pharisees taught that poverty, diseases and disabilities are retribution for past sins. But, instead of all this working against him, it leads a man like Lazarus to look for help. He looks for a hero like in today’s reading in Psalm 146: a Zorro who will execute justice for the oppressed, a Robin Hood, who gives food to the hungry and supports the needy, a Man of Steel, who’ll protect the vulnerable and thwart the wicked. He looks to God. The bottom line is that you cannot determine a person’s spiritual condition by outside appearances. It’s in the heart. We need the rich man, poor man scenario, however, to correct a common misconception.

We can use it to destroy the idea that good people go to heaven. It is the evil ones that go instead. The Pharisee’s concept of poverty and disease was right in a spiritual sense. We must first see ourselves as wicked and diseased due to our sin. Admitting our spiritual poverty is a necessary and difficult step for salvation. After all, if you don’t see yourself in trouble, why would you need a Savior? Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit (Matt 5:3). He also said that only the sick need a doctor (Matt 9:12). Recognizing this condition in ourselves makes us cry out to God as a Lazarus in need. When Jesus becomes our Savior and Lord, we are healed from sin and become a child of the King. It is then that we can receive the true riches that God has prepared for us, a life of: righteousness, faith, love, and other attributes that we find in our reading, 1Timothy 6:11-16. So how is it with you? Is everything going great? Is prosperity making you comfortably numb to your spiritual condition? Have you ever thought that when Jesus talks to the Pharisees that He is actually speaking to you? Be a Lazarus. Don’t follow the path of the rich man. It doesn’t work that way.

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