St. Luke 16:19-31
June 6, 2021
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Just before the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke reports that the Pharisees were lovers of money. Jesus says to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” The parable is a warning to the Pharisees and all who hear.
Still to this day, we highly esteem the rich. We admire power. But, of course, we don’t admire the rich man in the parable, he who did not even send his table scraps to the beggar. His heart was wicked. When he died he went to Hell, a place of torment. Even there his heart was wicked. He refused to believe that God is merciful, claiming that no one warned him as to what was coming and also refusing to believe that God’s Word is sufficient to create and sustain faith.
The beggar Lazarus was not esteemed by men, we do esteem him. The parable does not record his good works, but when he dies he goes to heaven. The name Lazarus means “the Lord is my Help.” He doesn’t speak in the parable. He is only shown reclining, first at the rich man’s door, his wounds being licked by dogs, and then, happily, at Abraham’s bosom. He is a picture of the passiveness of faith.
From this parable we should learn to not esteem power and money but to love our neighbor. Above all, we should trust God’s Word and not demand miracles. We should know that we are beggars before God. We cannot save ourselves. We are not worthy of what we ask. But we wait for Him to reveal Himself and the fullness of His mercy because we trust His Word.
We all know well that the love of money is the root of all evil. Nonetheless, we remain deluded and deceived by the world. We daydream about constantly, what we could do if only we had more money, how we would set up our loved ones and even our Church with nice things and trust funds. If I told you that it is harder for a tall man to enter into the Kingdom of God than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, would you tell me that it is so great to be tall that you are willing to risk it? No. Of course not. But if Jesus says that of a rich man, you say you like those odds. Repent. The blasphemy that most quickly destroys faith is that which scoffs at the words of Jesus. We are most tempted to scoff at the words of Jesus when His words contradict the passions of our flesh. Do not store up treasure in this world. Store it in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy.
Nor think that you are unlike the rich man in the parable, because if you were rich you would be generous. You are richer than you know. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Something is better than nothing. The widow’s mite was the greatest offering ever given in the Temple. You can’t give your kids a million dollar trust fund or the car of their dreams, but you could babysit for them or buy them a vacuum cleaner. The beggar Lazarus wasn’t longing for a mansion on a hill, just for crumbs. Share your crumbs. They are more than you know.
Lazarus does nothing in the parable. He does not speak or even stand. He neither confesses the faith nor does any good works. Yet he is carried by the holy angels to Abraham’s bosom. He is a beggar, too weak to fend off the dogs, longing like the prodigal son for food from the trash heap, but his heavenly Father is richer than the rich man. Lazarus is passive, but His Father is most active. Thus he is brought to his Father not because of his worthiness, but because of God’s mercy. He is not esteemed by men, but he is esteemed by God.
There is a sense in which saving faith is passive, that is, that it is something that is done to us rather than by us. Our only action is to accept what is given instead of rejecting it. The rich man was confident in himself, the beggar was not. He knew that he was weak and had no resources. He did not esteem himself. Instead, he believed God’s Words and promises without miracles or much in the way of experience or evidence. He simply trusted God to be faithful to His own Word, to be good to him according to His promises, and to do what He said He would. Thus he was saved and the rich man condemned.
This is what we mean when we talk about faith alone. We do not mean that faith exists in isolation of good works or that there is no sense in which faith is active and growing. What we mean is that God declares us righteous not because of our good works or lineage or intellect, but because of the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of the world. He gave up His riches. We esteemed Him not, but by His stripes we are healed. His riches are given to us when we believe it.
It is clear in all of Holy Scripture that there is no difference when it comes to holiness between good people and bad people, between Jews and Gentiles, or between the strong and the weak. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and yet all are freely justified by God’s grace through the redemption that was promised in the Messiah. Whoever believes and trusts in this, despite his sins or background or history is declared righteous by God.
Jesus, the teller of this parable, Son of Mary, is Himself the Messiah, a Man of us, and yet still and forever true God. Everything the beggar waited for is found in Him. For the Father has set Him, Jesus Christ, His greatest treasure from heaven, as a propitiation for our sins. We receive this by faith, not by works or an act of the will. It isn’t something we do, but what God does to us through the Word. It is ours when we hear the Spirit’s testimony of the Son and He causes us to believe.
God Himself is just and is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ. Seek first the Kingdom of God. Seek to be Lazarus. Disciple your daydreams. And whatever we must suffer in this life, even if the only mercy we find is from wild dogs, let us not lose this faith but remain ever in it by God’s Holy Word and Sacrament.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.