One of the most popular stories in the Bible is that of the rich man and Lazarus. Luke 16: 19-31 contain the story of a nameless rich man and a poor man by name Lazarus. In our present day, it is easy to lay the blame of an uncounted number of sins against the rich man, but won’t it be better to ask ourselves what sin did he really commit, and if we (present day believers) aren’t guilty of the same?
According to the text, it could be summarized by saying the rich man refused to feed, clothe and care for an obviously poor and sick man, a beggar laying at his gate. The history of both the rich man and Lazarus are not known. We don’t know how the rich man became rich or what he did for a living; neither do we know how Lazarus became poor, sick and full of sores.
But what we are told is that while the rich man “fared”: ate and lived sumptuously everyday; while he passed by the same gate everyday; while he entertained his friends, guests and subjects everyday; he watched as Lazarus became sicker and sicker, weaker and weaker until dogs thought he was dead and started licking his open sores. The dogs must have scratched the sores in the process to make it wider and easier to lick; it sank deeper, until the disease spread through Lazarus from head to toe, and he finally died.
But what was wrong with the rich man minding his own business everyday considering he wasn’t responsible for Lazarus’ poverty or sickness? Weren’t his riches the blessings of God? Was Lazarus the only beggar at the gate everyday and how many other people were as guilty as the rich man for turning a blind eye to the needs of people in their environment? Where were the brothers and sisters of Lazarus, immediate / distant relatives who could have come to his aid? Wasn’t there any priest in the city who could cry out unto God and to the people on behalf of Lazarus? Did Lazarus and the rich man ever have any conversation? Weren’t there any other people in the city who were richer than this rich man or even who might not be as rich as the rich man but who could have helped Lazarus in one way or the other? So many questions are unanswered; but perhaps, answers are not necessary since Lazarus was laid, critically ill at the gate of the rich man obviously to beg for alms from passersby. The rich man terribly failed to identify his human to human responsibility, and for that he was guilty.
Luke 16:21 – Lazarus was said to have just one desire: to be fed by the crumbs (food remnants) that fell (or were thrown away) from the rich man’s table. Was Lazarus given these crumbs to eat or was the rich man extra stingy by giving the crumbs to the dogs?
Luke 16:22 – Some time later, Lazarus died. He was first to die and he was immediately carried into Abraham’s bosom. His final place of arrival shows that even in his poverty, hunger and sickness, his heart was right with his God. This is a challenge to all those going through something or somewhere: a phase, a challenge, a difficulty, or stuck at a particular uncomfortable point where the first human reaction is to forget or forsake God. Please hold on to your faith come rain or sunshine.
The rich man also died but he ended up in hell. From hell, he looks “over on the other side” and begins a conversation with Father Abraham, requesting just a drop of water from Lazarus to cool his tongue. To those who despise God, Heaven and Hell, the rich man from hell gives us a status report: that a drop of water which isn’t enough for a new born baby is a lot of water in hell. May you never get there in Jesus name. How did the rich man recognize father Abraham? or perhaps he(rich man), while alive had been told the story of his fore-fathers and yet he refused to believe, obey and serve their God?
It is easy to quickly brand the rich man as the worst of sinners because he ended up in hell. Yes, the Bible tells us that sinners will find their place in the lake of fire and brimstone, but it’s not based on the amount, volume or number of sins committed. Sin is sin. One sin is as bad and wrong as one-hundred sins.
A little detour: Lazarus was not a priest or prophet. The Bible holds no record that he preached to the rich man or anyone about God, His Love, repentance and forgiveness. In fact, the Bible doesn’t tell us that Lazarus prayed to God for any form of healing or deliverance from his diseases, sores, sickness; neither was he prayed for by someone else. Why?
A lot of people carry satan’s luggages(sicknesses, poverty, pains) in their bodies all through their lives and still think they understand 1-Corinthians 6:19. Dear brother or sister, except God specifically informs you that the sickness / ill-health you are battling with is for His glory; please reject it all and pray it off in Jesus name. Sickness can make a believer deny God. Poverty can drive a believer to eat from the hands of idol worshippers. Covetousness and lack of discipline made Esau to give his birth-right away in exchange for food. What if he was sick, poor and hungry at the same time? he might have lost more than his birth-right.
Back to the discussion: The story of Lazarus and the rich man is representative of the sin so many people (believers in Christ inclusive), commit today: THE SIN OF SELFISHNESS AND NEGLECT OF OUR FELLOW MAN. Plain and simple, the rich man ended up in hell because he refused, absolutely neglected to help those around him – in his immediate environment.
It is so easy for we Christians to get up in an “I am going to Heaven” mentality, plunge into neglect of those around us, and end up displeasing God altogether. Some might even think their responsibility of love and care is only “especially to those of the household of faith” Gal 6:10? If that were to be the case, how will those around us ever be saved? It’s not possible to spend eternity with God in Heaven if we neglect “other images of God” in our environment.
When God in His love and mercy makes Philippians 4: 19 a reality in our everyday lives, it becomes easy to brand the poor, the sick and the destitute in our environments as wicked, and enemies of God. Just because we fare sumptuously more than they do physically, spiritually and financially speaking, it is easy to conclude that Psalm 7:11 is fulfilled in the lives of those that surround us. While we bask in our testimonies of prosperity, good health and well-being because God, by his faithfulness stands by 2-Corinthians 1:20, we might unfortunately conclude that the suffering and sick individuals or multitude around us (who don’t know about God’s love and great promises) are suffering for their sins.
That’s why we would rather give them a one-hour Bible study session and an altar call for salvation instead of first showing them the love of God through our words and actions, which might be as simple as a cup of cold water to cool their thirst or a blanket to cover them in the cold.
I was recently challenged by the missionary stories of young men and women who received the call of God on their lives to go to remote parts Africa, and the world to help people there: feed and clothe them, educate them, provide health care, preach the gospel to them, etc. Even with all the stories of war, poverty, lack of basic amenities, lack of security of life and property, etc., in Africa, these young men and women quit their jobs, sold/gave up whatever possessions they had, said goodbye to their parents, gathered all their personal finances and “went” to where they were called.
I read another story of a missionary couple (husband and wife) who came to Africa and started adopting very sick children from hospitals and orphanages, giving them first class medical attention, caring / nurturing them back into good health. Their Church back in the U.S.A contributed, sourced and paid for all the medical bills incurred, some which involved taking these children abroad to distinguished medical facilities for treatment.
I began to wonder: why would God call a foreigner to come to the physical and spiritual aid of my next door neighbor. If this foreign missionaries and I believe the same God; if we are both subject to the voice of the same Holy Spirit, why should God give my responsibility to someone else, considering I won’t be much of a total stranger to own neighbors(people in other parts of Nigeria – where I live, and in Africa). Common factors such as skin-color, language, food, living conditions, etc., would have made me a “more-deal” missionary to my neighbors “in my opinion”. This is just a thought.
Or perhaps, have I, and so many professing Christians around me have become “rich men”, too busy and blind to see the Lazarus’ all around us? Or have we become Priests and Levites, just like those in Luke 10: 29-36, too holy, too heaven bound, such that we prefer to “pass by the other side” to our own Churches – so as not to stain our holy and righteous garments? I concluded by asking myself if we are all going to the same Heaven. Are we all going to the same Heaven?
The sheep(righteous) and the goats(wicked / unrighteous) asked the Son of Man in Matthew 25:31-46 the same set of questions:
Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
and He gave them the same answer:
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
but they(sheep and goat) ended up in different places.
Worse: the display of pomp and wealth by some Christian public figures, for example in my country(Nigeria) bothers me and I always feel God must be sore displeased. I do believe that God blesses a man/woman first for his own sustenance and second, to be a blessing to someone else. This “someone else” would rejoice, be happy and give glory to God on your behalf; thus, God’s blessings to you go back to Him(God) as a sweet smelling savor of thanksgiving.
The rich man’s story ended with Father Abraham saying that if the rich man’s brothers could read and obey Moses and the Prophets, they could avoid joining him in hell – a place of everlasting torment. The situation is more critical today because so many people, so many “men of God” all over the world are preaching and teaching about Moses and the Prophets, yet are guilty of the rich man’s sins?
May God bless His Holy word. Amen!
Your comments and Opinions are most welcome.