If we get a little uncomfortable about money, especially when Jesus is teaching about it, good. It's always good to ponder what bothers us; perhaps we have a stone that needs to be turned over and looked under.
Jesus has just finished teaching the parable of the "shrewd manager" in Luke 16. Jesus then boils down the argument to its essence: Who are you going to serve? You cannot have "two masters." A master demands undivided loyalty; how can you divide your loyalty and serve wholeheartedly? One master will get the short end of the stick.
Notice Jesus says "master" in Luke 16:13? Not "friends," nor "families" nor "neighbors." He says, “No
servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the
other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You
cannot serve both God and money.”
Wow. In the Kingdom of God, you are a servant. Jesus saw Himself that way, and saw that for His followers. He washed the feet of the disciples at Passover, which surprised them no end. The host of the Passover washed the hands of his guests; servants washed the feet. He modeled what this Kingdom servant looks like by doing both.
So, if you are a servant, who is your Master? God Himself, right? Well, the ones listening to Jesus, the Pharisees, are characterized by Luke as loving money. Their divided loyalty was manifested on their faces--as they listened, they "were sneering at Jesus." Jesus, Who had an irritating habit of cutting straight to the chase for those who needed it the most, saw into their hearts and knew of the the two, money and God, which One was not getting the Pharisees' undivided loyalty.
He goes on to remind them that in the Kingdom, what is valued by men carries no weight, and actually is "detestable in God's sight." God's economy is so different and Jesus is embodying that difference every day in who He touches and teaches.
Before Jesus launches into His rather famous parable, about a rich man and poor guy named Lazarus, He makes a few more comments: “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. Anyone
who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and
the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
Jesus is putting the religious leaders on notice. "The Law and the Prophets" is the Old Covenant, outlined in the Jewish people's holy writings. But John's ministry is a demarcation, from Old Covenant to the New Covenant, as now represented by Jesus' teaching. This new Kingdom is so appealing that people are wanting to get in on it now!
Jesus is, however, not preaching spiritual anarchy. The Old Covenant isn't be tossed onto the scrap heap of history. It has its place, for it shows how God's Chosen are to act.
So, adultery is still adultery in this New Covenant, and by extension, all of the commandments will still reflect the Divine design of things. But, and here is an important point: Jesus is showing how the Law and the Prophets, in the hands of the religious leaders, has been drained of its vitality, with no love and no life. That is why the doors of the Kingdom are being busted down by eager people, desperate to feel that they are truly loved by God.
So, what have the religious leaders failed to do? Sure, Jesus could lecture them as to their many shortcoming in the service of His Father, but He elects rather to tell a story.
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus begins, “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.
"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 Hades, 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 set in
place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can
anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 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.’
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.’”
Hmmm. It's a subtle message, but a powerful one. I am sure that a few of the Pharisees caught the essence of this story, while a few others just stood there, flummoxed by what they saw as Jesus' deliberate obtuseness.
So, let's see where this story takes us. Remember, Jesus has already made the point about money being a master to many and incompatible with serving God. The Law and the Prophets are still in effect in terms of how God expects His children to act. So, with these two trains of thought, let's get on board.
Two men, two very different lives. The rich man isn't mildly rich...he is RICH. His garments are colored purple, which comes from a very expensive dye, and his linen is "fine." Every day, this man is livin' large.
Everyone knows who this rich guy is and where he lives. How could you not know with someone dressed like this?
Some folks have the idea of laying a poor beggar, Lazarus, at the rich man's gate. Good move. This rich man has more than enough to give. He has been richly blessed, and the Law and the Prophets teach that those who have must give generously to those who have not. The rich man probably doesn't just walk down the street. He is probably carried in a sedan chair to his various engagements. So, in his comings and goings, he might not even notice this lone beggar on a street corner. To insure that Lazarus gets noticed, his friends/comrades/family place him at the gate, so when the rich guy leaves his abode, he can't help but notice him.
Problem #1: The rich guy doesn't seem to be on the vanguard of philanthropic ventures. The poor have to be brought to him. He doesn't seem to make the rounds and help the poor.
Next, we see Lazarus at the gate, "covered in sores." Malnutrition and deprivation have worked their magic on this poor guy. His hope? He longs to eat what falls to the floor from the rich man's table. He's not even begging outright when the man is dining. He's just hoping that when the floor is swept and the garbage is put outside the gate, he'll be the first to get the scraps. But, he, in his weakened state, will have to compete with the dogs. He is so weak that they lick his sores. He doesn't seem to have the strength to get away from them, and their licking makes his degradation all the more poignant.
This can only end one way. The beggar dies.
So, this man, this beggar, forgotten on earth especially by those who could afford to care for him, gets a beautiful angelic escort to heaven. He is not forgotten after all. Heaven was all too aware of his suffering. In fact, the overflow of the blessings bestowed on the rich man should have been used to relieve the suffering. Heaven gives so we may give. The rich man couldn't be bothered.
Problem #2: The rich man's attitude was not at all in harmony with the Law and the Prophets. Blessings, especially material, were seen as coming directly from God's hands. Sadly, many took the inverse to be true: If you aren't blessed by God, then you've done something wrong and offended Him. So, you get what you deserve. Right? No, Jesus is showing another interpretation: You, with your cup overflowing, are God's hands and feet to a hurting world.
OK, let's review. Line up, Pharisees.
Problem #1: You don't seem to be on the vanguard of philanthropic ventures. You scorn the poor, the needy, the sinners. Do you seek the poor out? Or do you stay behind your self-righteous gate, and even when the poor are brought to you, you ignore them? You are too busy basking in your blessings, thanking God for noticing your wonderful adherence to His law and rewarding you accordingly. Do you even consider that your wealth is not an end in itself, but a means to bless others? Probably not.
Problem #2: Attitude check. OK, you don't seem inclined to spread the love around. You have been blessed by God, but now you love the money more than Giver. You use your wealth to separate you off from the rest of society; you sport a country club mentality with your abundance. You claim to be God's representatives, yet walk right by the Lazaruses all around you.
I can hear you thinking, "How do you know that, Jesus of Nazareth?"
These are the very people who come to hear Me speak, and you are not subtle in the least with your sneering, scornful looks, towards them or Me.
Next time, we will follow the rich man, who goes the way of the buffalo...