In society today, there is a preoccupation with being successful, or at least gaining much wealth. And not necessarily with wealth or success that is earned.
For example, the Australian love of gambling is well noted. But even if weren’t, there are many other opportunities for gaining wealth. Indeed, there are game shows on television; there are reality television shows, where the winner walks away with hundreds of thousands of dollars. And of course, for those of us who don’t want to make fools of ourselves in public, there are always the lotteries or poker machines. Indeed, many dream of what might be . . .
So if I were to ask you the question, “What would you do if you won xxxx amount of dollars?” what would be your response?
And the reason I asked that, is because it’s a question we all should probably consider as we think about this parable of Jesus. Because it was a parable that was aimed fairly and squarely at the Pharisees—a group of people who held great wealth and power. Supposedly religious men of God who should have known better. Because the parable is about a rich man. And although we’re not told how he became rich, the story is about what he did or did not do with his wealth.
Now the first thing we are told in the story is that the rich man lived a good life (19). He enjoyed his wealth and didn’t mind flaunting his situation. And in contrast, there was a poor man who was at the other end of the spectrum (20-21). His health was poor, he was desperate for food, and despite the fact that he lay at the rich man’s gate, he had nothing.
Now both men died. The poor man was carried off by angels (22-23), and the rich man was cast into hell to live in torment—not least of all because he could see the poor man safe in the arms of Abraham.
Now the rich man called out to Abraham to have pity, to get the poor man to minister to his needs (24). But the reply came back that it was too late (25-26). The rich man had had his opportunity to provide the sort of assistance and had failed to provide it. Now he was dead, and there was a great chasm between heaven and hell. It was too late.
It’s a very effective story. The reversal of fortunes couldn’t be more graphic. The rich man who had everything, who lived in the lap of luxury, and who couldn’t see his way clear to treat the poor man with even a modicum of charity, ended up in torment and was desperate for help. And the poor man, who had nothing but poor health, pain, and an empty stomach, was now living in the luxury of eternal life.
Is it any wonder then, that the story concludes with the rich man calling out once again to Abraham? He accepted that it was too late for him (27-28), but he did express a concern for the rest of his family. He didn’t want them to face the same fate. So he asked that someone should warn them of the dangers that they were facing in pursuing the lifestyle that he had.
To which he was told that they had been warned. And even if they were warned again (29-31), and it wouldn’t matter how spectacular that warning would be, it would make no difference whatsoever.
In other words, Jesus was saying that even miracles themselves cannot melt stony hearts. And no matter how often people are told, and no matter how spectacular the method used, some people will still not get the message, and they will have to live with the consequences.
Now it must be said here that this is not a parable of the Kingdom. Jesus was not trying to tell the Pharisees that they could get to heaven simply by doing good works. No! What he was trying to tell them was that riches and wealth, particularly of those who profess the faith, brings responsibilities. And the parable is an example or warning in regard to poor human conduct.
The Pharisees were fair game. They were noted for parading up and down with their riches and power and position in society. They too were noted for their lack of care for the poor. Indeed, they treated them as outcasts.
So the challenge that Jesus was facing them with, was just how responsible (or irresponsible) they were, with the riches and power that God with which had entrusted them. And by implication, that is the same question we need to be asking ourselves today.
Because if God has given us so much, what are we doing with it? How responsible are we with the things that God has entrusted to our keeping? Are we like the rich man in the story who refused to provide even the basic charity? Or do we care for those who are not so well-off as us?
It’s an important question. Because in contrast to many, most of us are rich. We have food to eat, shelter from the weather, access to health care (which gets plenty of criticism, but it leaves most other countries health for dead), and our physical needs and wants are mostly catered for. But what do we do for those who are not as well off as us? For those who long for just a few crumbs of what we enjoy?
Being successful, being wealthy, or even winning the lottery may be part of our nations psyche, but if we have lots of money (and that is relative) what do we do with it?
Winning money, being rich, and even being successful, may be the dream of some, but it’s not being rich that counts. It’s what we do with our wealth that matters. After all, in many ways, in this country, we’re all rich. We all have more than most people could dream of. But what place is there in our hearts for those who have less than us? How much do we care for those who are struggling and in need? That is the challenge of this passage from Luke. And it is a question that we will all to answer, come Judgement Day.
Posted: 3rd September 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis