OF WEALTH 1 Tim 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-end
A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation
toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case
presented then said, "I can understand why you approached me. Yes
I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you
aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother
needs 24 hour nursing care?" "No we didn't" came the reply.
"Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight
on her own?" "No we didn't" came the reply. "Did you
know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary
work overseas?" "No we didn't" "Well, if I don't give
them a cent, what makes you think I'll give it to you?!"
Parable of Rich and Poor
Jesus told a number of stories about rich and poor people. As with all
his parables they are enjoyable and meaningful. But why did Jesus tell
this particular one about the rich man and Lazarus? It seems to be aimed
at the Pharisees by the context in which Luke places it. It is also deeply
ironic, because the punchline says: “If they do not listen to Moses
and the prophets neither will they be convinced even if someone rises
from the dead.” In retrospect Luke can see that Jesus was speaking
of himself. But Luke also places this parable after the one about the
dishonest manager. Here is a series of parables about wealth and Luke
tells us that the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, ridiculed Jesus.
So perhaps also Jesus told this parable as part of his teaching about
is this parable about?” A number of answers present themselves.
On one level it is a satisfying story about the turning of the tables.
A rich man with all the trappings of wealth, whom it might have been assumed,
was blessed by God, ends up in the flames of hell. Notice also that the
rich man is not given a name, whilst the poor man does have a name, Lazarus,
and though he lived a wretched life on earth, he ends up in the arms of
Abraham in heaven.
level we could say that it is not really about wealth at all – it
just uses wealth as a device. It is really about the fulfilment that Jesus
is of the Law and Prophets – to attend properly to the voice of
Scripture will lead to the acceptance of he who would be the first to
rise from the dead. Even such a miraculous thing as coming back from the
grave will not convince those whose hearts are hardened to the message
of the Law and Prophets. Connected to that may be another lesson which
is not necessarily about wealth itself: what you do in this life determines
your destiny. The rich man was selfish, did nothing for Lazarus and ended
up in hell where no more could be done to change the situation.
in the Mirror
All of these interpretations have something in them. But it is still a
story about rich and poor. Perhaps this non-biblical story can help us
understand what Jesus’ parable was about.
A rich but miserable man once visited a rabbi seeking understanding of
his life and how he might find peace. The rabbi led the man to a window
and said "What do you see?" "I see men, women, and children,"
answered the rich man. The rabbi then took the man and stood him in front
of a mirror. "Now what do you see?" he asked. "I see myself,"
the rich man replied. "Yes" said the rabbi. "It is a strange
thing is it not? In the window there is a glass and in the mirror there
is a glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver,
and no sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others, and you
see only yourself."
to me about this story is that it illustrates how riches can blind us
to realities that are around us. The rich man in Jesus’ parable
does not notice Lazarus until he is suffering in hell. Jane Williams suggests
that he swept by in a horse or a carriage, as he went to and fro through
his gates. He had servants to run his errands and look after him. His
riches cocooned him from seeing who sat outside his home – it seemed
the only creatures to notice Lazarus were the street dogs that cleaned
his wounds. What we see or fail to see provides us with a way of understanding
this parable from all the suggested meanings we have mentioned. Riches
can blind us to realities around us. The Law and the Prophets contain
sufficient truth to point to the truth that is Christ. Our destiny lies
in what we see and respond to in the here and now.
and His Gold
I want to tell another story to help our thinking move further on.
Once upon a time there was a Miser who used to hide his gold at the foot
of a tree in his garden; but every week he used to go and dig it up and
gloat over his gains. A robber, who had noticed this, went and dug up
the gold and decamped with it. When the Miser next came to gloat over
his treasures, he found nothing but the empty hole. He tore his hair,
and raised such an outcry that all the neighbours came around him, and
he told them how he used to come and visit his gold.
"Did you ever take any of it out?" asked one of them.
"Nay," said he, "I only came to look at it."
"Then come again and look at the hole," said a neighbour; "it
will do you just as much good." You might recognise this as one of
Aesops Fables and it teaches us that wealth unused might as well not exist.
We may struggle
with money, be aware of our many commitments and feel that we are not
rich. But we are relatively wealthy. The former bishop of Oxford wrote
a book entitled Is There a Gospel for the Rich? In it he tackles the question
of Christian obedience in a capitalist world. Telling us that riches are
evil is not good news for us and is not actually what the Bible teaches,
either. The letter to Timothy suggests that the congregations he pastors
have wealthy people in them. Timothy is to teach the well-off in his pastoral
care not that wealth in itself is wrong but that pursuing wealth for its
own sake is misguided. As Aesop taught, unused wealth might as well not
Verses 17-19 of 1 Tim. 6 express a proper Christian attitude to wealth
using the imagery of economics. Three things are emphasised: first, that
the rich should set their hopes on God rather than on uncertain riches;
secondly, that the wealthy are to be rich in good works; and thirdly,
that the wealthy who live like this are to see it as investing in life
that really is life. Like so many other powerful things such as power
or sex, money is a form of energy that can make things happen. It is neutral
– what we do with it is what determines our ultimate destiny. I
think you may well agree with this basic teaching. I want to leave you
with another story which brings this to life and I hope will inspire you.
Blaise Pascal was an influential French scientist who lived in the 1600's.
He was also a devoted Christian who wrote thoughtfully about the life
of Christ and the Christian. Through all this Pascal realised that his
faith, though intensely personal, could not be merely individualistic.
Increasingly Pascal deprived himself so that he could give more. He sold
his coach and horses, his fine furniture and silverware and even his library
in order to give to the poor. One day he applied his genius to the practical
matter of transport. Noticing a crowd of people all headed in the same
direction to work he came up with the idea of the bus and in 1662 helped
form the very first bus company. He received an advance of 1000 francs
for his bus and immediately sent the money to the poor in Blois, who had
suffered from a bitter winter. He then signed over his interest in the
company to the hospitals of Paris and Clermont. When Pascal died at the
age of 39 in 1662 his funeral was attended by family, friends, scientific
colleagues, worldly companions, converts, writers, and the back of the
church was filled with the poor, each and every person there someone Pascal
had helped during his life. (Charles Kummel, The Galileo Connection)
© Rev Paul Smith