The Rich and the Poor (Or, The Rich Me and Lazarus)

Before we begin: This post has nothing to do with money!

I’ve been convicted lately that I’m handling some of my wealth unwisely. It began with reading these statements in Scripture: “You had everything you wanted” and “You spent your years satisfying your every desire.”

Jesus’ Parable

The well-to-do household ignored the beggar in the street outside the back door. All he wanted was a few crumbs, the table scraps that might be thrown to the dogs. But the wealthy man living in luxury ignored Lazarus.

Until both died, and then the circumstances were reversed. Then it was the rich man, suffering in hell, who was begging. And all he wanted was a drop of water. The answer he received is unsettling: “Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish.” (Luke 16:25)

I’ll be honest, reading this story again made me shiver. “You had everything you wanted in life, while someone else suffered. Now he is being comforted, but you’re in anguish…”

So Many Warnings to the “Rich”– How could they be meant for me?

Have you, like me, wondered why Scripture has so many warnings for the rich? Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into the kingdom of heaven. And James, teacher of practical discipleship, writes:

Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment … You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. James 5:1-3, 5 (NLT)

Grim and terrible warnings!

But since I don’t consider myself in the “rich” class (and neither would any economic measurement!), may I just skim over these verses from James and be thankful I’m not in danger of suffering such dire consequences?

Two words stop me from dismissing this passage: wealth/riches and accumulated.

The word translated here as wealth or riches is the same word used in the Bible to refer to the riches of God’s grace, the riches of His glory, and the riches of a relationship with Christ. The word refers to abundance, and it includes far more than money.

Uh-oh. If this word riches doesn’t necessarily mean money but refers to all kinds of abundance, then suddenly this passage speaks to me forcefully, undeniably, painfully. I am forced to think about how I use other riches, riches that are not owned and wealth that is not counted in dollars.

This passage warns me that abundance accumulated, hoarded, and used only for my own comfort and satisfaction will rot away and become a curse that will stand as judgment against me. Strong words!

Am I that rich man, wealthy in so much and ignoring others in hungry need? (And remember, I’m now thinking of every type of abundance except money—many other areas of my life that overflow with abundance.)

Will Jesus’ words someday be “I came to you hungry, but you would not feed me”? Or will God have to explain, “Daughter, I gave you such riches. But you hoarded it all for your own comfort. It was not for you that I gave it to you!”

What Wealth am I Hoarding?

What riches do we hoard that are not meant to be kept for ourselves? You’ll have your own list; I’ll give you a few things from mine:

My time and energy. I am so guilty. I’m far too jealous of my time. My selfishness wants to hoard it, use it all for my own pleasure.

Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness. What mercy God has shown me! And no one knows as well as I how undeserving I am. Yet, God still forgives me. Still calls me His child. Am I willing to reach into every life that touches mine and spread the salve of grace and forgiveness? Or do I hold tightly to any “justification” for anger, “understandable” severing of relationship, or a “right” to seek revenge?

Unconditional Love. God showers me with unconditional, unchanging love. Again, undeserved—but He loves me! He asks me to love my neighbor in the same way—and my neighbor is anyone I know is in need. I have many neighbors, in every space of my life, who need unconditional, accepting, healing love. Yet too often I don’t want to risk discomfort by extending that kind of love.

Friendships. There are those lying outside my gate, hoping for crumbs of friendship. People everywhere are waiting—looking for a friendly word, an open invitation, a gesture of kindness. You have them at your gate, too. I’m living in the luxury of dear, cherished relationships that refresh and bolster my life. Will I step outside my gate and invite the poor and needy to dine at my table?

Good News. Father, I confess that I’ve been given the greatest treasure anyone can hope to find on this earth. And still I hesitate to offer it to those I know are seeking.

Spirit, make me more willing to share my wealth.

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