Text: Luke 16:19-31
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
In 2014, Louisiana was ranked 49th among states in terms of their poverty population. Overall, 19% of Louisianians live in poverty which means they make $23,834 or less for a family with four. The Income Inequality Ratio is 18.3% and ranks Louisiana as 47th in the Nation. This refers to the ratio of the share of income going to the top 20 percent of households and the share of income going to the bottom 20 percent of households in 2014. Despite these statistics, Louisiana had an overall unemployment rate of 6.4% which means that imbedded in this Capitalistic democracy are built in mechanisms designed to keep the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Additonally, Louisiana has the fourth highest rate of school-aged children living in poverty among the 50 United States and Washington, D.C., according to 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Only Mississippi, Washington, D.C., and New Mexico, respectively, have higher rates of poverty among children ages 5-17.
The national average rate of school-aged children in poverty is 21 percent, but just 10 out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have a lower rate than that. In Louisiana, 27 percent of school-aged children are in poverty, or 212,904 potential students.
Knowing this how can the church refuse to support scholarships and programs designed to help our children graduate high school and college. I believe its because they have so interwined the American Way with Scripture until their religion is so heavenly minded it is no earthly good.
And so this parable provides relevant lessons for us this morning. This parable helps us answer the questions: How can a society rich in resources and opportunities still have persons languishing in poverty and despair? In response perhaps one should look at the tension found in the word of God which states you reap what you sow and “He that lendeth to the poor, lendeth unto God.” (Now might I add that the word “lendeth” could also be read as “He that leans toward the poor with aid and assistance in that which is needed, leans toward the heart of God.” It is not a loan to the poor person per se, but an act done on behalf of God. An act rewarded by God, not this world system.) This tension exists because of the world system, known and taught in American schools and lived out by shrewd business habits with prooftexting and excuses for all the ills contained within this system. In other words, interpreting the Scripture through a capitalistic, free market mindset automatically lends itself to error. Lord, have mercy!
James, the Moderator of the Jewish-Christian Church warned: “5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.”
And so let us consider the lessons of this parable in the context of our subject for this morning.
First, you can’t help the poor if you can’t see the poor. Luke 16:19-20 reads, 19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” And when I say “see” I’m talking about with the human eyes and with the understanding of their plight in your mind which compels you to act with favor toward them.
Note that this rich man never saw this man Lazarus. This rich man lived in a worldly reality. Lazarus represents a condition more than he does a person; he is poor; his represents poverty that often befalls a child of God. But the rich man represents how this world’s systems rewards those who hustle, grind, and keep their minds on their paper. And you can get so high in this world’s system until those in poverty become invisible and irrelevant.
Lazarus “was laid” outside his home each day which simply means that Lazarus became the rich man’s responsibility. All the rich man had to do was acknowledge him, view him as a child of God and help him. He was laid at his gate, right in front of him but this rich man had his windows tinted, rolled up, and hit the gas without even looking both ways else he would have seen Lazarus. He was so busy being busy, he did not acknowledge the condition of Lazarus. Some of us are so busy being busy, until we have no time to stop and see the plight of those right in front of us. We do what I call drive by shootings without the gun; we see poverty, roll up our windows in fear and keep on driving. And I say to you slow down and see your community, slow down and see your neighbor who is languishing in poverty.
Note also that the demon of poverty does not come alone; it brings sickness, mental illness, and despair. Poverty causes people to live a horrible life; watching those who have been blessed in the midst of a wicked society live as if they do not exist is a painful reality experienced by the poor. Luke depicts Lazarus’ plight like this: “21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” Can you see this man? Are your eyes open to the plight of the poor among you? But in this world system, How quick we are to defund indigent care programs, refuse to open clothing and food pantry ministries and refuse to aid the homeless. Lord, have mercy!
Note also that this man’s name, Lazarus means, “God helps.” So from his very name we see that this man though at the rich man’s home is not dependent on the rich man for help. Though he is living out his condition of poverty, he is not depicted as having this rich man as his only source. His name suggests he is leaning and depending on God for his sustenance. He’s at this rich man’s door, but he’s looking unto the hills from whence cometh his help; his hope is in the Lord, God Almighty. Lord, have mercy! But let me move on……
Second, you can’t help the poor if you don’t believe that poverty is an unavoidable reality. I suggest this morning that when Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always,” Jesus was in fact letting us know that poverty is an unavoidable human condition. This world system creates gaps between the rich and the middle class and the rich and the poor. This gap is unavoidable in a capitalistic free market society and if you’re going to see the poor with the right attitude you must subscribe to this premise, “the poor you have with you always.”
If you believe that people are poor due to a lack of education, a lack of being reared in the proper environment, or because they have been lazy, shiftless, and slothful then you will not be able to accept poverty as an unavoidable reality. If you can’t see how people can be poor in a society rich in resources and opportunities, you will not be able to accept poverty as an unavoidable reality. Lord, have mercy!
Let me say emphatically with Jesus, Lewis Temple, the poor you will have with you always. And that poverty will remain in some sectors of the population despite our best efforts to eradicate it. That does not mean we should not fight this world system that produces poverty, we should. What it means is that we should not lose hope as we fight this demonic condition when things do not change as readily as we suppose.
Third, if you are not generous toward the poor right before you, then you won’t help those far away. In other words, if you pass by a poor person on the street right outside your home, you won’t travel distant lands on mission fields to help them either. Don’t you get tired of hearing folks talk about going to Africa or India to help the poor, when they won’t give to the Salvation Army, the Church, at home? Isn’t it irrating to hear people talk out of both sides of their mouths. They say their care for the poor, but refuse to implement a food bank program or provide assistance to the Christian Community Action on the local level. Lord, have mercy!
Jesus says to us in this parable that if you don’t open your eyes to the needs right in your neighborhood, if you don’t believe that life produces poverty, if you don’t help those in front of you, you will have to give an account for that kind of unrealistic stewardship.
Luke 16:22-26 reads, “22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
Beloved, stewardship demands that we look at this world system as juxtaposed to the kingdodm of God. Despite the actions of the rich man, those who live in the kingdom of God should operate from a totally different perspective. We should live with heaven in our view and even more importantly than that, we should live our lives based on the Word of God.
A man was driving his car, when he saw an old lady, stranded on the side of the road. He saw that she needed help. So he stopped his Pontiac near her Mercedes and got out.
He smiled, while he was approaching her, still she was worried, as nobody had stopped for hours. Moreover, he did not look safe, as his appearance was so poor and shabby. He could see, how frightened she was, so he tried to calm her: „ I‘m here to help you, don‘t worry. My name is Bryan Anderson“.
The tire was flat, so he had to crawl under the car. While changing the tire, he got dirty and his hands were hurt. When the job was done, she asked how much she owed him for his help. Bryan smiled. He said: „If you really want to pay me back, the next time you see someone, who needs help, give that person the needed assistance. And think of me“.
At the same evening, the lady stopped by a small cafe. That place looked dingy. Then she saw a waitress, nearly eight months pregnant, wiping her wet hair with a towel. The waitress had a sweet friendly smile, although she had spent on her feet the whole day.
The lady wondered how someone, who has so little, can be so kind and giving to a stranger. Then she remembered Bryan. The lady had finished her meal and paid with a hundred dollar bill. The waitress went to get change and when she came back, the lady was gone. She left a note on the napkin: „You don‘t own me anything. Somebody once helped me, just like now I‘m helping you. If you really want to pay me back, do not let this chain of love end with you“. The waitress found four more one hundred bills under the napkin.
That night the waitress came home earlier. She was thinking about the lady and the money she left. She was wondering, how the lady could know, how much she and her husband needed it, especially now, when the baby will soon arrive. She knew that her husband worried about that, so she was glad to tell him good news. Then she kissed him and whispered „Now everything will be all right. I love you, Bryan Anderson“. That is a dynamic picture of what happens when we accept the fact that we are living in exile, that this world is not our home and its systems are not our systems.
Finally, Luke says we should govern our lives based on the revealed, written Word of God. Luke writes in 16:27-31, ” 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
Beloved, I know how easy it is to get caught up in this American system of success and fame, yet let me urge you to judge America by the standard of God’s Word. If a person has not helped the poor before they are elected to office, don’t expect them to help after they’ve been elected.
In the kingdom of God, riches do not come from a capitalistic free-market system but true riches come from having a heart for the things of God. I urge you today, to consider your attitude toward the poor and stop operating as an American and begin to act as a child existing in the kingdom of God. Do it now because one day, you will give an account of your stewardeship. And I ask will you be like this rich man or will you be generous in your stewardship as a Christian ought.
I trust that you, will continue to support those who mission is eradicating poverty right here and right now. Praise the Lord!
 James 2:5-9, KJV.