Almighty God, Who hast granted us Thy holy Word and revealed Thyself to us therein, and through it dost teach us the way of righteous living: Grant us ever to reverence, love, and treasure the Holy Scriptures; implant within us the desire constantly to read and study them; and as Thou hast promised wisdom to all who seek it, teach us by Thy Holy Spirit wisdom for this earthly life, so that we may grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus, our Lord, and be made wise unto salvation; through the Same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Our best learning comes when we get things wrong. Growing can be painful, but educators like to promote a growth mindset. Students might prefer to have perfect scores and get everything right all the time, but for almost everyone that’s not realistic. Worse, perfect scores usually mean the student’s not learning much. When you try hard but still get something wrong, you probably won’t get it wrong the next time you see it. “Mistakes are where the new learning goes.”
As long as you’re alive, that principle works fine. But our gospel shows where it stops being helpful. The rich man and Lazarus both died when the story begins. Only then did the rich man discover his mistake. He tried to use what he learned, but it was too late for him.
If you can hear my voice, it’s not too late for you. By giving us today’s Gospel, Jesus is allowing us to learn something important without making the mistake ourselves. If you do learn from it, you are truly blessed.
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.’”
This is God’s Word. Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Dear fellow redeemed,
Even though we don’t know his name, the rich man is the central figure in this story. The only thing we know about what poor Lazarus wanted is that he longed to fill himself with the leftovers from the rich man’s table. He suffered, then later he was comforted. In Lazarus we see a reversal like what Mary sang about in the Magnificat. God has “exalted those of humble estate.” He didn’t do much in the story. He who seemed to be forgotten by God turned out to be the object of God’s love. The seemingly-forgotten-by-God part might remind you of yourself, especially if you feel inadequate in your soul.
That was Lazarus, and Jesus tells us his name. That means God knows him by name. He was a believer. It would be justified to suppose that if he lived around the time of Jesus, Lazarus had been baptized. At his baptism, God’s holy name was attached to his own, making it precious to him, proof that Lazarus was also precious to God.
The rich man is unnamed. He could be anyone: man, woman, or child. Some might be wealthy in terms of material things. Some not. What they share is their overwhelming concern for earthly things like clothing, food, and having a good time. He could easily be you or me, and he’s the most involved character in this story.
Let’s take a good look at the rich man. First, we should adjust our idea of “rich.” Yes, he had wealth. But the important part of being “the rich man” wasn’t his wealth; it was his attitude about it. He could have still been “the rich man” with much less, as long as his priorities were the same.
This man had no heavenly funeral service like Lazarus in which the angels carried him to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man died and was buried. Maybe there were people on Earth who mourned him or spoke eloquently about him, but no matter how impressive or elaborate the earthly funeral was, those things were insignificant to Jesus, and not even mentioned.
As the real action begins, we notice one last thing about this rich man. He recognized Abraham across the distance between hell and heaven. He called out to Abraham by name. This rich man had been a child of Israel. Circumcised on the 8th day, required to attend synagogue and learn the Torah to a certain point, then attend the main festivals in Jerusalem each year. He knew Abraham.
You may know people attached to the Christian Church: baptized, made to attend catechism class for a couple years, then expected to go to church at least at Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day. Or something like that. Just like the rich man, and enough maybe to recognize Abraham across the distance between hell and heaven.
The rich man made a request to Abraham, a plea. Not to impose on Abraham, but it’s not beneath Lazarus: “Send Lazarus to hell, Father Abraham, with a drop of water for my parched tongue.” And why? “Because I’m tormented.”
Even now, the rich man thinks only about the way he feels. It occupies his whole mind, his whole being. In life on Earth, it was how his luxuries made him feel so good; now it’s the way his eternal suffering makes him feel. Unfair! Unacceptable! Before, his motto might have been, “It feels so good, it can’t be wrong.” Or maybe “You only live once, so squeeze the enjoyment out of every moment.” Well, now he finds himself still alive in a sense, and now it feels much worse. The mottos of his earthly life are shown to be foolish.
Abraham didn’t have to respond, but in compassion, he calls the rich man, “child.” The reversal is complete. Lazarus already bore his cross. He will not be sent to hell. And the rich man? Abraham said, “you in your lifetime received your good things.” May that never be said about you or me! Yet there are many who live exactly that way, and we have the same sin within us.
Where are your good things? Where is your real treasure? Where do you seek your enjoyment and your true life? Let the rich man’s reversal be your teacher. When God says, “You shall have no other,” He means it.
The philosophy known as Epicureanism has existed for a long time in many forms. Today it dominates most of this world. The Bible (in Ecclesiastes) says we should enjoy our limited time in God’s Creation while we also serve Him. But Epicureanism says “Death is the end of your existence. The time you have now is all you get. So live well and do everything in such a way that you have maximum peace and enjoyment.” Instead of enjoyment being a gift, it becomes a god. You probably know several people who think that way, whether they realize it or not. That’s a lot like the rich man, and apparently his brothers too. He wanted Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn them.
But no, Abraham said even that would not be enough if his brothers rejected Moses and the Prophets. That is, if they reject the Bible.
But wait, didn’t the rich man accept the Bible? He recognized Abraham. So then why wasn’t that enough to save him? Two things: He remembered Abraham only after he died, when it was too late. And second: there’s a big difference between knowing and trusting.
In the end, the rich man implied that God did not do enough to save him. That God was unjust. But this accusation fell flat. Lazarus being in heaven was enough to show the problem. It wasn’t God who failed to save the rich man. It was the god he chose to worship during his life in place of the true one.
You also have Moses and the prophets. You have the testimony of Abraham. That was enough for Lazarus. He trusted in God on the basis of the Scriptures, and God brought him to heaven. You have more: the Gospel of Jesus, provided by four different witnesses in the NT, the witness and doctrine of the apostles, and the preaching of God’s Word. You very richly have the same thing that Abraham said is enough to avoid the end of the rich man. But will you learn from his lesson?
It may be at some point in your life you made certain decisions, said or did certain things that would disqualify you. Knowing this may trouble you. Maybe you let God’s word become no more than a memory. That’s certainly the path of the rich man.
But if you hear my voice, God is calling you to the path of Lazarus. It may be less comfortable during this life, but Jesus has said (Jn. 14:1-3), “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
As for your idolatries and neglect of Holy Scripture, Jesus forgives you. You may trust the promise God made to you in Holy Baptism. You may trust the holy body and blood that was given and shed for you, which speaks better things than the blood of Abel.
Your sins are forgiven. You are equipped to live wherever God puts you to His glory. You have His promise of life, stronger than death.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!