you're reading...

What Do We Value?

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

September 25, 2022

Click to Join our Meeting for Worship

Click to read in Swahili

Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili

Luke 16:19–31 (ESV)

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

There was a rich man. It is interesting how many parables and teaching moments of Jesus begin in this manner. There was a rich man. What does it mean to be rich? This of course depends on your cultural context, because what would be considered rich in the community that I grew up in, would look very different to someone in New York, and what is rich in a New York setting would be ridiculous in Rwanda or India. The concept of rich may have a different appearance in different cultural contexts, but there is a common theme through each culture. The ones that are rich have an abundance, and due to this abundance, they have greater influence within their culture. The rich are those that can exert their influence over others for gain. It is not a sin to be rich or have abundance, but how we use what we have is where trouble emerges.

I have often contemplated the ideas of wealth and riches in the context of culture. I read once about a man that was speaking about World War II to a tribesman in what we would consider a 3rd world country. The man spoke about how many people died in the war and all the machinery that was invented for the execution of the conflicts. And the tribesman was astonished. And he asked the man how they could afford such a war. The man looked at the tribesman questioningly because there was something lost in translation. The European man was considering the cost of the equipment, and the tribesman was thinking not of the war itself, but of the cost of the lives. Because each of the lives that were lost in that man’s culture had a value of ten cows that would be paid to the families of the warriors by the victor. When the European man told him of the millions lives lost in that war, that tribesman was wondering how anyone could afford the cost. Where would someone even house a herd of nearly a billion cattle?

I do not know where I read that story or even if the story is true, because it seems so alien to my mindset. But I remember the story because it shows the difference of value and wealth, and it reminds me that if we are not aware of other’s understandings of the world around them, we might cause a great deal of offence. The tribesman’s understanding of wealth revolved around a herd, where we might consider the value of our investment portfolio. There was a rich man.

The wealthy of any culture have influence. The tribesman of the story, if he had a great herd, could wield greater influence over the people around him. If he chose to use violence, he had the herd to pay the cost of war. But what about us? Even in America the land of the free and the home of the brave, we often base our judgment on our ideas of wealth. If you do not believe me just turn on the news, there is a story in the news that has been running for weeks now, and the reason it has been weeks is because of the wealth of the individual involved. Our perception of wealth gives us influence, and this wealth gives power. It gives power because those that have an abundance of what a culture values can use their abundance to apply pressure to those that do not. Where those that do have a shortage of what is valued, live at the mercy of those that have an abundance.

“There was a rich man,” Jesus says, “who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” This week, as I was studying, I could not get past this first verse for the longest time. Jesus is using some very vivid language in this verse. Purple dye was a great sign of wealth in the first century. The dye comes from a sea snail that is only found in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. To get just one gram of dye people would have to dive under the water to collect around twelve thousand snails. Due to the great risk and quantity of snails required to produce this blueish purple dye it was extremely expensive. When used this dye would make a purple color in the fabric or if it was exposed to sunlight at the proper time, it would produce blue.  There were other means to produce blue or purple pigments in fabric, but this dye was important to everyone because it did not fade over time.

This dye was expensive yet very important to the Hebrew people. Scripture required that the prayer shawl should have at least one strip along its length that used thread dyed with this pigment. And the Tzitzit, the fringe or tassel worn by the men also utilized this pigment.  There are many explanations as to why this was important to them, some writings say that it represents the sky and water. Which would symbolically indicate that those that wore the fringe were connected or wired to the heavens because the hue was undistinguishable from the sky. Unfortunately, when the Hebrew people returned from the exile, they lost the knowledge of making the blue color so often what should have been blue remained purple. This did not deter them from using this expensive dye, they knew that the color was off, but they used this loss of knowledge to teach the people that when Messiah came, he would restore the lost knowledge and Israel. Through contemporary scientific discoveries we have restored the formula that will make the blue hue which is exciting.

This rich man was clothed in purple. This is an indication of not only his wealth but his religious devotion. Not only was he connected with his religious fringe and strip of his prayer shawl, but his entire body was dedicated and connected with the heavens. This was a man of great influence. It is possible that Jesus was thinking of a particular person as he told this story, but he left that person unnamed. This unmentioned person would have been considered to have great wealth and influence among the righteous as well as their pagan overlords. Maybe even the high priest, or the high priest’s father-in-law.

I usually read five different commentaries when I study each week, and almost every one of the commentaries said something humorous about the fine linen. Each of these scholars thought that the fine linen that Jesus was speaking of was the man’s underwear. Jesus was making a very pointed statement about the man’s wealth. He wore purple every day, and even his underwear was of the finest, most expensive fabric. Even the most vulgar aspects of this man’s life were clothed in luxury.

This was a man that had so much wealth that he used it for the most unnecessary extravagance. As I sat in study, my mind kept being drawn to symbols in our current society. When I was a child there was a show called lifestyles of the rich and famous. This show would tour the amazing mansions that the wealthiest people of the world lived in. And I was reminded of Trump’s golden toilet, and the viral YouTube video called Putin’s Palace (by Alexei Navalny). These people of great wealth will use their abundance to make the most ordinary things in their lives extravagant.

“And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus,” Jesus continues. This is the only time in all of Jesus’s parables that a name is given to one of the characters. This has led some to believe that Jesus was speaking about an actual event. I am not going to say that this is true or not, because nothing in scripture indicates one way or the other, except for the fact that this is the only time Jesus uses a name. Lazarus was the third most common name among the men in first century Jewish people, and the name derived from the Hebrew name Eleazar which means, “the one God helps.” Scholars believe that it is a fitting name to describe a poor man in a story. Eleazar was also the name of Aaron’s son who became the second high priest of Israel, so Jesus might have also used the name to direct attention to the ancient faith of the fathers and the contemporary expression of faith.

Lazarus was laid at the rich man’s gate. Laid is also an interesting word; it is the passive form of the Greek word to throw or cast out. Meaning this man was not just placed at the gate, but he was cast out and forgotten. He was squatting at the gate of one of the most influential people’s and yet he is forgotten, overlooked, and disregarded. He was covered with sores and the only medical care he received was from the dogs that came by to lick his wounds. This shows the heartlessness of the main character of this parable, the rich man. He had enough wealth to have linen underwear, but he would leave this man in the care of wild stray dogs.

Already just three verses in we see much, but there is much more to the story. Both these men die. And angels carry the poor man to Abraham’s side, while the rich man is buried. We might overlook this part of the story, but its important. Angels are regarded as ministering spirits, and some of these ministering spirits would escort the souls of the dead to God. And depending on the person another ministering spirit, Satan, the accuser, would stand before God with these souls and accuse them. This poor man Lazarus is different. He was not accused before God; he instead went directly to Abraham’s side. Lazarus was immediately received into eternal blessedness. Very few people are spoken of in this manner. Moses, Enoch, and Elijah are the only ones that come to my mind that went directly into God’s blessing. Everyone else it is said are gather to their ancestors, which means that their bones will be placed with the bones of their ancestors as they wait for the resurrection of the righteous. Jesus is telling us that the poor man is as righteous as Moses. The poor man is carried to blessing by the angels, and “the rich man is buried and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.”

The irony here is thick. It is often taught that blessing here on earth is equal to blessing in Heaven. Meaning that those that have an abundance on earth have that because God has blessed their righteousness. The same teachings can still be seen today among the health and wealth teachings of many churches in America. What does Jesus have to say about this? Last week we heard what he says, “If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” We often take this parable as proof of heaven and hell, but we often miss the fullness of what Jesus is saying. This is not a story of heaven and hell, or the virtue of the poor and the vile of the rich, but a story of what God values in His Kingdom.

The rich man cries out in his torment to Abraham, “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water to cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” This goes back again to last week. In the ancient world there were basically two classes of people the rich and the slave. Those that had wealth or abundance, and those that lived at the mercy of those with abundance. There were very few in between these two classes, and if we were to be honest the merchant class or the free men class were often feared by governments because they could not be easily controlled. This rich man in hades had been one of the elites. He had slaves and servants, and since Lazarus was at his gate, he most likely would have been a slave of this man. The rich man looks up to Abraham and expects Lazarus to continue in his servitude to him. Abraham quickly puts a stop to this, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.”

Abraham calls the man child; I do find this interesting. He speaks to the man with tenderness, even though he is condemned. Not only is he speaking in tenderness, but the term child is the word used for the first son, the heir. He may be in hades, but he is still honored for who he is. Even though he chose a life that forever separates him from the eternal blessing of God, he is addressed in a manner worthy of his name. We are all loved by God, we are not worms in the hands of an angry God, but children. Errant children at times, but still children. The rich man understands what Abraham is saying. He chose his destiny. He chose to disregard the teachings of Moses in life, and he accepts the judgement rendered. But he begs, “Father, send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them.” This rich man still believes that he can command Lazarus. He still believes that he can control and influence those around him, even in his condemned state.

Abraham again stops this train of thought. “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” Why does Abraham say this? Scripture teaches us the life that God desires. We often regard it as the law, but with every law there are exceptions to the rule. Scripture is not law, but teaching. It is filled with case studies or situational events that teach us how to discern good and evil. When we regard scripture as law, we begin to negotiate and make justifications. This is what this rich man had done his entire life. These justifications left him looking righteous on earth, it gave him power and influence, but he did not discern the deeper truth. He sought the unrighteous wealth and neglected true wealth. Abraham tells him, “Your brothers have all they need.” And this man pleas, “No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”

This story, often regarded as teaching us about the choice between heaven and hell, speaks not of that decision. Instead, it teaches us of something deeper. How will we live? Scripture throughout the Old Testament speaks of how to live life with others. Israel was called to a different kind of life, set apart or sanctified from the rest of the world. Much of what we regard as the Law, is very similar to what every other culture in the area did, but Scripture puts a different spin on it. The spin is value for human life.

If you were to read the legal codes of Mesopotamia you would find many similarities to scripture, not equal but similar. This points to the natural law; CS Lewis so famously spoke about. But the difference is in the areas that are not similar. Mesopotamia had classes of people, where in Israel people were equal in the eyes of God. Mesopotamia would allow dishonor of outsiders where Israel was to be hospitable to the alien. Mesopotamia, or Babylon allowed those of means to lord over their slaves as if they were subhuman. Scripture reminds Israel that they were once slaves and they should treat all people as the image bearers that they are, because God will eventually redeem all people to himself.

What I am getting at is that it is can be easy to fall. The slightest turn can drastically change the course set before us, and that slight turn can be detrimental to life. The pilgrims our schools love to honor around thanksgiving had their course set not toward Plymouth but toward the already establish colonies in America. They were blown off course and when they came to America, they were miles from where they intended on being. That modification in course nearly killed them. If it was not for the hospitality of the native peoples in that area, we would have one less story to tell around Thanksgiving.

We are called to use the unrighteous wealth of mankind, to lift each other up in the world today. We are called to use what we have available to us here and now, to bring glory and honor to God. We are called to live our lives in a manner among the people of this world, that will reflect the love that God has for them. We are called to live this way not because we ourselves are good, but because this is how God created us to live.

It was the fall that brought in sin and death. Sin or missing the mark is how we veer off course. We can veer off course in simple seemingly insignificant ways, but as we continue our journey through life that little turn can lead us miles from the destination. God understands this. God knows how easy we can be swayed, so he reminds us that it is justice not whole burnt offerings that he desires. It is Loving him with all that we have and loving our neighbors as ourselves that is the true law. God knows how easy it is to turn from the true law, so he provided a way, a pathway through the valley of the shadow of death, in Jesus, his one unique son. So that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have life, true life in him. Will we answer that call?

The rich man clothed in purple and fine linen appeared to most people to be living the life of blessing, and Lazarus who sat at the gates with his sores ministered by the dogs appeared to be the one that was cursed. It is difficult to know the hearts of those around us, because we so often are attracted to what positions itself as power and influence in the kingdoms of men. But what if that tribesman with his herd of cattle knows more about life than the European?

What do we value? And how do we use what is available to us? Jesus is calling those who claim to follow the God of Abraham to examine their lives and their actions. He is asking us to do the same. Christ came to live among mankind to give us a course correction, will we follow him? Will we return to God’s path, or will we continue to follow the pathways of this world? Are we loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others?

If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:


To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.

About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply


Meeting Times

Meal at 6pm
Bible Study at 7pm
Bible Study at 10am
Meeting for Worship 11am
%d bloggers like this: