Scripture: Luke 6:19-31
There are days when I really wish there were not rules. Like when the road is totally clear of all traffic and yet I am required to drive at a regulated speed. Then there are silly things at work, they are called guidelines or best practices, that require certain things out of me that must be recorded, many of which actually seem to slow me down. But generally these regulations and best practices are put into place by organizations to provide for the general welfare of that organization. The thing about many of these guidelines, rules, and laws is that you can break them countless times without hurting a single person, but then one day in a moment something happens and suddenly the guidelines seem to make total sense. For me the seemingly open road was suddenly filled with numerous deer. The speed limit is in place not because the government wants to be jerks and keep us from making it to places on time, but because as speeds increase there is a greater chance we will not be able to avoid accidents.
It is often hard for us as individuals to accept many of the rules we have in our society. At times we wish to throw off the regulations entirely but because we have grown accustom to that safety we forgot why it is certain things were originally put in place. I mention the chafing of regulations today because immediately when reading this passage of scripture our minds are directed into areas of judgment. I do not desire to speak on areas such as these because I frankly find that focusing on judgment tends to have an opposite effect on people than what is intended, the same effect that the regulation on speed has on the many drivers on the roads.
We meet today two men. One is rich and the other is poor. At first glance we may see that Jesus is condemning wealth and honoring poverty, which is an interpretation that can be made in this passage. But if we were to just stop there I believe we would miss the point. There is a reason Jesus so often honors the poor, not because the lack of means is a great place to find one’s self in, but because there is a perspective that can be seen through the eyes of the poor that is rarely seen by those of means. That perspective is need.
The poor are often in need. At any given moment they could lose the roof over their head, their forms of transportation, or the ability to eat. This perspective of need prompts us to seek relief. This is something that people of means rarely have to face. And when we do not need, our perspective can be skewed. We have two extremes in the conditions of the people in this parable of Jesus’, comfort and discomfort.
The first person that we meet is the rich man. This man is dressed in purple and fine linen, and he feasts every day. I want us to really consider what Jesus is saying about this man. Not only is he a wealthy individual but an individual that has so much wealth he must come up with ways to spend the money he has. Dyed fabrics in the ancient world were things of luxury. If you owned a garment that was dyed it would probably be something worn only for the most special of occasions. Now with that being said, dyed fabrics were not uncommon. The color of the dye is what sets one apart from the masses. It would be common to have natural colors in clothing because often dyes were made from natural occurring minerals or plants that would stain the fabrics. It is fairly easy to obtain an orange tint to fabrics by letting it soak in an iron rich soil solution. The problem with these is that the color fades. The rich and dark blues and purples are very special. We can get a blue with indigo the dye that is commonly found from a plant. Indigo was an expensive dye, but that is not the purple or blue that Jesus is referring to in this passage. It is one of a more sacred and rich variety. It is a royal or Tyrian purple. This dye is so special because of where it is found. It comes from a mucus membrane in a specific species of sea snail. People would dive into the see to gather the snails, they then would have to remove the membrane and then mix it in the dye solution. It was very labor intensive and thus expensive. It is prized because as the sun hits the dye it does not fade away like the dyes derived from plants, but instead gets richer and brighter. This was a type of dye that was used to make the stripes on the Hebrew prayer shawls and other ritualistic garments. So cloth of this variety was used to distinguish the separation of the sacred and the secular, the righteous from the sinner. To have a robe made entirely of this rich dyed fabric is making a profound statement, usually such wealth as this was reserved only for royalty or the royal courts, or in the case of the Hebrew people the Priestly class.
I mention this to establish something that this rich man was most likely a profoundly religious man, because of the cloth used to clothe his body, and because Jesus is speaking this parable to Pharisees. Jesus does not stop with the clothing, but he then speaks about the man’s diet. Jesus says that this man had luxurious feasts daily. The term feast implies that there was some sort of celebration. Scripture records several types of feasts, wedding feast and several holy feasts like that of Passover or the feast tabernacles. The first century people did not feast often; most could not even afford meat to eat regularly so a feast was a scared and holy thing. Luxurious meals were often attached to sacrifices offered in worship both among the gentile cultures as well as in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem. Again Jesus is inferring to the crowd that this man was a religious man one that the community would see as being blessed by God.
Then the second man we meet is Lazarus, a poor man. This man longed to be able to eat the crumbs left around the table but instead he sits at the gate covered in sores. This man was so badly cared for that only the dogs came by to bring cleansing to the wounds, which is not exactly a balm of comfort.
Let us imagine the two men for a bit. One a religious leader wearing sacred cloth and eating celebratory meats of worship daily, and the second a wounded and broken man. They both die seemingly on the same day. Lazarus is carried by the angels to be with Abraham, and the rich man is buried and tormented in Hades. Wait the rich and righteous man goes to hell? That is what Jesus says. Yet the poor man is whisked away by angels to the Bosom of Abraham.
Blessed are the Poor because they will be comforted, woe to the rich for you have already been comforted.
This passage is one that is difficult to speak on, because it can judge each of us in some way. I believe that through it Jesus is teaching the discipline of simplicity and contentment, as well as ministry and blessing. It speaks of lavish displays of righteousness and a heart that is void of light. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth, but woe to the laughing now for they will weep and mourn.
The poor man Lazarus was content in his place. I see this because he allowed the dogs to minister to him as he sat at the gate. He knew that there was no other help around, he could have tried to scare the dogs away but he let them come and offer whatever comfort and companionship they could offer. Yet the rich man was not ever satisfied, daily he had to feast. Contentment is often a misunderstood term. Often it is seen as lacking ambition and at times fatalistic, those that are content have no desire to move beyond their current state and just stop where they are. But I challenge that because Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, that he is content in whatever state his is in, he has not given up but he has adjusted his life to be satisfied with little so that he can be a blessing to others. If he is well off he praises God because he has more to share, if he is poor he is satisfied because he has enough and praises God still. The poor man is content, sure he longs for food, but in his need he becomes a blessing to the dogs. The rich man in all his wealth has a poor man needing assistance sitting at his door yet in all his righteousness is not moved to offer him a morsel.
Woe to the rich, for they have already received their comfort. Behind the Kingdom of God, Jesus speaks more often about wealth and money as he taught through Israel. Eleven out of the Thirty-nine parables are about money and on average one in seven verses in the Gospel of Luke is about money in some form. This should tell us something about the subject, money is a tool that can consume us or can be used to bless others. But in most of those cases there is a central theme, God does not care about how much money we have but how we are using it.
In Luke the Gospel where Jesus is recorded as speaking the most about wealth Jesus encourages the wealthy members of society to use what they have to bless those that have little. He encourages them to give them jobs, and to provide assistance to those that cannot work. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he has and give it to the poor. He is calling us all to readjust our lives to live on less, so that we can be in a better position to help more. Only when we are released from the bondage of currency can we be free to serve God. James the brother of Jesus said that that is the true purpose of religion.
The rich man of the story is consumed in himself, rich foods rich clothing. This is a prophecy against the consumption aspects of our culture; every aspect of our economy is based on consuming goods and services. Rich or poor we consume. Every facet of our culture is consumed by greed, envy, and selfishness in some form or another. CEO’s want more profits, labor wants more wages, and assistance programs want more to offer. We think we need and some of us might actually be in need, but overall the issue is that we are not content. We can never be content when we are focused on consumption.
Which is why we need to rediscover the discipline of simplicity that the Society of Friends was known for. True simplicity is not cheap; cheap is an imposter to simplicity. Simplicity is to use wisdom where cheap is to cheat. Simple is sacrifice for the good of others where cheap is to sacrifice for the good of self. Cheap is consumption where simplicity is blessing. We cannot follow Jesus and have our lives based on consumption because in the kingdom of God the relationship with others and being a blessing to others is more important than our own pleasures and status.
Both of the men in the story die and one is comforted and the other is tormented. The rich man looks across into the distance and cries out for mercy yet there is no comfort. He cries yet there is a chasm of separation that cannot be crossed. He then pleads that Lazarus would go back and warn his brothers, and Abraham says to the man that if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets than even someone returning from the grave would not convince them.
It is a sad story, a story of judgment and condemnation, but also one of hope. It is one of hope because there is one that has returned from the grave that has bridged that chasm of separation, and can bring comfort. Repent for the kingdom of God is near is the gospel, the good news brought by the one that brings hope. Repent or turn. The Kingdom of God is the most often mentioned thing by Jesus. The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of mankind because the kingdom of God is based on different things. Jesus is not a king in the same sense as the leaders of our world. He is not a tyrant because tyrants consume, but instead he lifts his subjects into his glory. His inheritance is shared with all of those who call on his name, and turn from a lifestyle devoted to worldly consumption and realigning themselves with the things valued by God.
What does God value? God values us. He created us in his image, he set us above all of creation, and he created us to walk in the cool of the evenings with him. God values the relationship, and we honor the things valued by God when we use all that we have been given to bring blessing to those valued by God. Rich or poor, in want or in plenty we honor God by being content with what we have and striving to be greater blessings to the world around us as we proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to bridge that gap separating us from the comfort of God. And we can live today in His kingdom when we turn and begin to use our minds, bodies, souls, and strength to build and honor the lives of those around us. When we use the talents and gifts of the Spirit to bring honor and glory to the things God values, and when we lay the chains of currency at his feet.
Today as we enter this time of open worship, I ask what kind of people are we and which side of the chasm do we dwell? Will we be a people of blessing or of comfort?