- Bible Reading: Luke 16:19-31
- Free Resource: Puppets for the Story (PK-2nd – NL)
- Lenten Theme (February 17—April 2): Journey to the Cross
- The Point: God calls us to care for those others do not.
Lovers of Money
Our Lenten journey continues, as does Jesus’ journey to the cross. Last week, Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ criticism of his table companions (tax collectors and sinners) with three parables about a sheep, a coin, and a son that were lost and found. This week, we jump 18 verses to another parable, which is a criticism of the Pharisees, specifically their love of money (Luke 16:14). Like the parable of the lost son, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a story with more details than most parables. In this case, it is also the only parable with named characters (Lazarus, Abraham).
Briefly, this is a story of a ridiculously wealthy and wasteful man and a man extremely in need. The first lives in the lap of luxury, while the second sits in suffering. They both die and their situations reverse: the first suffers and the second is comforted.
Luke and Social Justice
The Gospel of Luke is well known for its concern for the people who are economically and socially marginalized, as opposed to the other, more spiritually-focused Gospels. This is clear by comparing the versions of the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5 and Luke 6:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:2
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”Luke 6:20
Luke especially continues the tradition of the Hebrew prophets when he pairs these blessings with woes:
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”Luke 6:24
This is the Great Reversal which Mary sang about in her Magnificat:
“[The Lord] has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”Luke 1:53
What is interesting is that—like in many of his parables—Jesus doesn’t issue a call to action (like he did with the merciful Samaritan in Luke 10:37). He lays out a situation.
One man is ridiculously rich. He “feasted sumptuously every day,” something even the rich of Jesus’ time were not able to do. This man was over the top. He had too much food. The other man, however, had no (or very little) food. The inequality between the two was almost unrealistic (though in our time it’s sadly not).
Causes of Inequality
It might seem a bit unfair that “the rich” are given such a bad rap in this Gospel, even sending this man to Hades. It has been a belief (then and now) that both rich and poor people deserve their fate. But Jesus’ point is that the “rich” here are “lovers of money” rather than lovers of God and lovers of their neighbors. They are selfish and greedy. But—in my opinion—it is also due to some of the root causes of the socio-economic inequality. I am no expert in this subject in ancient and modern times, but there is a fair moral judgment here.
Wealth: How did (and does) one become wealthy?
- Morally positive: Perhaps a person creates and offers a superior product (or greater quantity) or service. They have a good work ethic.
- Morally neutral: However, how much is this is due to good luck and/or privilege? Did they have land with better soil or other conditions (agrarian)? Did they have a more supportive family life, a good education, a mentor who instilled the good work ethic, or were they just born with a natural giftedness?
- Morally negative: How much of this wealth or success had to do with a selfish focus on money as opposed to a generous and loving spirit toward God and others? Did they participate in or benefit from predatory loan practices which would take property and freedom from others? Did they use some sort of pressure (legal, physical, even spiritual) to take advantage of others? Did they engage in monopolistic practices?
Poverty (or economic instability): How did (and does) one become poor?
- Perhaps a person becomes poor due to a lack of work ethic, but often it is exacerbated by (or due to) bad circumstances. Did they grow up with poor resources: harmful family life, lack of mentors and education, generational poverty, and even poor soil (in the case of farmers). Did they have bad luck and had a serious illness or disability (which includes mental illness which itself can easily lead to substance abuse), become widowed or orphaned?
No matter how wealthy people obtained their riches, what are they doing with their wealth? Are they spending it on luxuries for themselves and their families like the daily feasting in this parable, or a yacht, private plane, or mansion in our times? Do they have the power to dramatically help people that they are not fully utilizing? My interests here—and it seems Jesus’, too—are the responsibilities of those who have resources: stewardship.
However someone came to gain resources, these resources belong to God and we are called to manage them wisely. Our use of these resources ought to be governed by the same commandments that the rest of our behavior is: loving God and loving our neighbors. The rich man in Jesus’ story is clearly choosing to indulge his own appetites instead of sharing his resources with others who need them. This applies—uncomfortably—also to those of us who may not qualify as “rich” but still have more than enough to provide for our needs.
Each week I offer a free activity for congregations to use for faith formation. This week’s activity is “Puppets for the Story” a craft to creatively engage faith formation participants in this week’s story. This was written for our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) curriculum. This type of craft is most naturally suited for a younger audience, but adults could benefit from this hands-on activity, too.
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
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