We often call it the holy Gospel, but this section of Luke (6:19-31) might be better named the terrifying Gospel. The parable of the rich man burning in hell while the poor man enjoys heavenly bliss should haunt the conscience of every middle class American. The possibility that “we have had our good life” here and now is unnerving. The question, “have I done enough for the poor?” is more than theoretical…
The Bible provides no easy answer. There is no exact dollar amount to avoid eternity in Hell; probably because it is not about tossing food to the hungry like they were pigeons. The rich man failed to see the humanity of Lazarus (the only character in a parable with a name!). So caring for the poor needs to include caring for them as a human…
We have all done something for the needy. We also know we could do more, much more. But doing more is also never ending. Sometimes I find our commitment to ‘outreach’ at the church is a never ending pursuit. There is never time to reflect on the joy of helping someone because there are so many others lined up with their own needs. It can get mechanical and become another numbers game, trying to do more and more (with les and less). I understand why some people throw up their hands and give up. “What is enough?” they ask. However, that is not a Christian option.
On the other hand, stressing and fretting is not faithful either. Jesus did not say we are to “worry” about the poor. Jesus did not say we are to “feel guilty” about all we have. Jesus said, “Use some of what you have to take care of others.” He also reminds us that God loves a joyful giver.
My offer on discerning how to deal with wealth would start with these three questions:
- are you generous? [if a third world person looked at all you have and all you use to help others would they say you are generous?]
- are you grateful? [do you ponder your blessings or take things fro granted. Are you more likely to say ‘thanks” or gripe?]
- how many of your money spending choices are motivated by love of God and others?
Paul tells Timothy a great deal about how to deal with money. He warns him of the intoxicating effect it can have; the addiction to money. Paul warns that the desire for wealth can lead us astray: off the path of life. In the end, that is the spiritual dilemma. Paul’s solution, following Jesus’ teaching, is learning to be satisfied with the basics. As he says, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment”
Being content is hard. When running a race we see the people ahead of us. We tell ourselves that if only we pushed harder we could do better. Striving for excellence is good. Learning to celebrate success is, too. So many of us spend our whole life stressed and burdened with greater expectations. Nothing is ever good enough—and we are never, ever able to enjoy what we do have.
Being satisfied with fulfilling our needs gives us freedom. It is more peaceful to spend less than you make. It is easier to see the blessings around us (people, places and things) when we aren’t busy trying to figure out how to get more, more, more. We need to stop to enjoy what we have in life, those things that matter most. And nothing adds more joy than truly helping someone in need.
As Paul reminds us; we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything with us. All our stuff gets left behind. All we have is legacy of what we did with what we had; a list of those we helped and blessed, to be laid at the feet of the God from whom all blessings flow.
You cannot buy your way into heaven. You can, however, “ignore-the-needy”- your way into Hell. Jesus asks us to trust. He wants us to believe He will provide. Love of money is the root of all evil because it is not the love of God—which is the root of all good. And loving God we will love others as well. And loving others includes that “Lazarus” at your gate.