September 25, 2016
“I used to think I was poor,” said one comedian. “Then they told me I wasn’t poor, but that I was needy. Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy, and that I needed to think of myself as deprived. Then they told me not to think of myself as being deprived but rather to think of myself as underprivileged. Then they told me that
underprivileged was an overused term. I needed to think of myself as being disadvantaged.” “I still don’t have a dime,” the comedian concluded, “but I learned some great new words!” Maybe this comedian is laughing to keep from crying, because whatever you may call it, being poor isn’t any fun.
“There was a rich man,” Jesus says in Luke 16:19-31 “who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, the rich man looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony . . .”
If there is a parable of Jesus that should keep us awake at night, the story of the rich man and Lazarus is it. Why should it keep us awake at night? It should keep us awake at night because, compared to most of the people in the world and many in our community, we are quite rich.
The famed Bible teacher William Barclay gives this passage the title: “The Punishment of the Man Who Did Not Pay Attention.” The punishment of the man who did not pay attention. And when Jesus is talking about men and women who do not pay attention to the poor that are right around them, He’s talking about us! And He’s saying that there is punishment for those who do not pay attention to those around them who are poor. In another passage, Matthew 25: 42-45, Jesus says that those who overlook the poor overlook Him, while those who reach out to the poor reach out to Him.
How many of us ever really notice those in our community who are poor? How many of us really notice those in our community who are in need?
Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, once worked for University Settlement in New York City. She and Franklin were not married at the time, and one afternoon Franklin came to see her at the time she needed to take a sick child home. Franklin said he would go with her, and they took the child to an area not far away from the Settlement. Franklin went with her up the three flights of stairs to the tenement rooms where the child’s family lived. It was certainly not a pleasant place and Franklin Roosevelt looked around in surprise and horror. It was the first time that he had ever really seen a slum. When he got back to the street he drew a deep breath and said: “I didn’t know people lived like that!”
Roosevelt had never paid attention to people in abject poverty, even though they lived right around him. But he’s not alone. Most of us don’t pay attention to the miserable conditions in which many people in our world, and in our community, live.
Notice that Jesus said in this parable that Lazarus “was laid” at the rich man’s gate. He didn’t walk there or drive there. He was an invalid who had to be laid there. Lazarus was totally helpless. There were no welfare programs. He obviously had no family to care for him. All he could do was beg, but the rich man couldn’t be bothered enough even to share a few coins. He refused to pay attention to the man at his doorstep. He was a man who refused to pay attention.
But, friends, there was one who did pay attention. God paid attention. The time came when Lazarus died. And what happened then? Jesus tells us, “The angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s side.” What a beautiful image. This time it wasn’t friends or concerned neighbors who carried Lazarus home at the end of a long day of begging. It was the angels. God knew Lazarus’ situation. God had paid attention. God cared about Lazarus.
I like the fact that in this parable Lazarus makes a name for himself while the rich man is anonymous. We know Lazarus’ name, but not the name of the man who refused to pay attention to him. This is important because in no other parable is a character named, but Jesus gives the poor man a name. Why do you think that is? I think Jesus did this to show that Lazarus, who the rich man did not know and did not pay attention to, was known and honored by God, while the rich man who did not pay attention to Lazarus was not honored by God. Lazarus knew God and was known by God. His very name, Lazarus, means “God is my Help” or “God is my Helper”. When Jesus gives a name to Lazarus but does not give a name to the rich man, He turns our understanding of who’s who upside down. He reminds us that those who think they are so important in the world, or that we think are so important, may really be nameless to God, while those we turn away from and do no pay attention to may be the very ones God makes important and identifies with. By naming Lazarus and not the rich man, Jesus’ story completely contradicts the worldly understanding of who’s who. Jesus reminds us that heaven is the opposite of this world in many respects, especially when it comes to rating an individual’s worth in society. We can name the rich and powerful people in the world we have never met, but what about the names of the people in Sanford we pass by every day but never stop to talk to? What about the names of those in need in our community? What about the names of those we see loitering around on Horner Boulevard or on the streets downtown? We can’t name them, can we?
Jesus is saying that God cares about everybody, even and especially those that we would rather not pay attention to and definitely not name.
God noticed Lazarus and cared about him. God also noticed the actions of the rich man who refused to pay attention to the poor man on his doorstep. Jesus says “The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, the rich man looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony . . .’”
Why do you suppose the rich man was in Hades? Maybe it’s because God noticed him just as he noticed Lazarus. But why did God deal with him so harshly? Jesus doesn’t tell us of any vicious, glaring sin. He was not cruel, as far as we know. He may have been an upright citizen, respected and well liked. In society’s eyes he may have been honored and highly esteemed. People may have thought well of him. So what was his sin? Why was he in Hades? His sin was the sin of not paying attention. He was in Hades because he did not pay attention.
Friends, we had better listen to this parable. We had better listen up. We had better pay attention.
How often do you and I take time to pay attention to the people around us?
How often do we pay attention to their needs and their concerns?
We need to pay attention to the homeless person asking for handouts and we need to pay attention to the lonely teenager who we may see every day but just pass by. We need to pay attention to the mother who is trying to keep her family together after her husband has abandoned them. We need to pay attention to the elderly person no one visits. We need to pay attention to the jobless guy who is being left behind by a culture that no longer values his talents. We need to pay attention to the Hispanic family struggling to make ends meet while they struggle to live in a country where everything is strange to them. We need to pay attention to what others are going through in their lives, and what each of us are going through, and show them and show each other that God cares by showing them that we care.
I heard about a child who needed to have surgery and was terrified, but there was a nurse who remained by his side, holding his hand, reassuring him that everything would be okay. “I’ll be right here, no matter what,” she told him. And she kept her word. She was there and greeted him with a smile the moment he opened his eyes after the surgey. Years later the child became a paramedic and was called to the scene of an accident. A man was pinned upside down in his pickup. The paramedic did his best to free the trapped man even as gasoline dripped down on them. The man was afraid that he was going to die as the rescuers worked to free him. One spark and the whole scene would go up in flames. The paramedic remembered back to that time when he was a child and the nurse who never left his side. He took the man’s hands and squeezed them as he said, “Don’t worry! I’m right here with you! I’m not going anywhere!” Days after the rescue, the two men embraced as the driver said to the paramedic, “You know, you were crazy to stay there with me. We both could’ve died.” The Paramedic smiled and said “I just couldn’t leave you.”
Here is the point, friends. If you don’t remember anything else I’ve said, remember this: There was a time when you were spiritually dead, spiritually a beggar like Lazarus lying at the gate and totally helpless. Christ, though, noticed you and Christ loved you and gave you a name. As you remember that truth, that compassion, and that grace Christ showed you, Christ calls us to look around and see someone who needs your attention, your compassion, and your love and reach out to them. Make it a point to pay attention to those around you, whoever they may be and whatever their need may be, and show them the love that Christ has shown you.
God wants you to reach out to others just as He has to you, but you can’t do this if you never take time to pay attention to others and look beyond you own cares and concerns. Friends, don’t be like the rich man who will forever be remembered as the person who refused to pay attention. Look around you today, and every day, and pay attention to and show God’s love to someone who needs it. Amen.