(Steve was on holiday this Sunday and at short notice provided this reflection for use instead of a sermon – except we still had a sermon from Paul! Steve’s reflection is published here so that we get the two for the price of one!)
1 Timothy 6:6-19
The gospel this week is the story of Dives (pronounced ‘die – vayz’) and Lazarus. It’s set in the context of an ongoing argument between Jesus and the Pharisees who object to his eating and hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus calls them ‘lovers of money’ and the story that follows is told against them, seeing that they appear to be very self-satisfied and do not listen to his proclamation of the grace of God and the coming of the kingdom.
So Jesus tells them a story about a rich man and a beggar whose fortunes were reversed in the afterlife. The story had originated in Egypt and was well known among Jewish teachers. In Jesus’ version he names the rich man Dives, and the poor man Lazarus. It is a shocking tale about the fate of the rich man who ends up in agony in hell after living a life of enjoyment and ease, feasting sumptuously every day while Lazarus, the beggar covered in sores who had lived by the gate of the rich man’s house and who had longed for some crumbs from the rich man’s table, is comforted in heaven.
It’s not as though Dives had been really overtly sinful; he hadn’t mistreated Lazarus; he just seems to have ignored him, and we don’t even know for sure if he had been aware of him. Neither is it clear whether Lazarus had been a more righteous man; he is only described as being a beggar and having sores. So it seems this is not a story about the rewards of virtuous living. Rather, this is a story about the dangers of self-centredness that can come from being rich.
It warns those who neglect the poor and needy, of the reversal of fortunes in the coming judgement. As such it is reminiscent of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew’s gospel. Neither are meant to be taken as literal descriptions of God’s judgement of those who do wrong, but rather the idea of judgement is presented as being not quite as clear-cut as we might sometimes think. There will be a judgement of some sort, though, and its conclusions are going to be far-reaching and a matter of profound regret for those whose lives have been centred upon themselves to the exclusion of those in need.
The concluding verses of this parable of Dives and Lazarus contain what some see as a reference to Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Dives asks for Lazarus to be sent to his brothers to warn them of his fate and so help them escape the same judgement. Abraham says “They have Moses and the prophets to warn them”. Dives insists “But if someone goes to them from the dead, then they’ll listen” to which Abraham replies “If they don’t take any notice of Moses and the prophets, neither will they take any notice even if someone were to rise from the dead”.
Questions for the congregation to discuss, either in pairs/small groups or as a whole congregation :
- Does this parable mean to say that having money is a bad thing? If not, what would you say is the moral of the story in a sentence?
- Do you think that Dives was a bad man? How might he be seen in today’s society?
- Why do you think Lazarus is “carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom”? What is it about him that makes him so special? How does society view people like him today?
- What are the implications of this story for the church in the light of the last phrase of the parable – especially in terms of God’s grace?
You may think of other questions too!…..