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First Sunday after Trinity
St. Luke 16.19-31
03 June 2018
Seminarian Brian Johnston, Vicar
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Our Gospel reading was titled the rich man and Lazarus. It’s an intriguing title because “the rich man” does not have a specific name, but the other character is called by name. His name is Lazarus. Why does Jesus give a broad generic name for the rich man and why does He give a specific name to Lazarus in this parable? Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees when He tells this parable. He uses the title “the rich man” to address all the Pharisees he was talking to, because they were described by the Gospel writers as “lovers of money.” Likewise they are said to “justify themselves before men.”
The name Lazarus is also used with a specific intention in mind. Lazarus is an abbreviation, maybe even a nickname, of the Hebrew name Eleazar – which means “God has helped.” In this parable we learn that the one who is helped by God is Lazarus even though he received no good thing during his life on earth. So let’s consider the one who is helped by God, first, by discussing the life and death of Lazarus and the rich man, and then by discussing the conversation between the rich man and Abraham.
During the life of the rich man he “was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day.” He even had property that was gated off. This man was one that had it all. He was seen as royalty in the eyes of men and conducted himself as such. He had no financial burden. If he had a thought for God at all he would have recognized that his blessings came from the Lord. He may have even thought that He had the Lord’s favor and that God had helped him. But he has no thought of God nor anyone else. He puffs himself up as his own god.
Satan tempts you in various ways to see God as a hindrance and a problem instead of as your helper. The devil works to make us reject our God given vocations where we get to live in service to our neighbor. Our sinful nature will even look lustfully at what our neighbor has and Satan will tempt us to forsake our God and the blessings and comfort that He gives, and we scheme to take what God has not given to us. But in the end it does not truly comfort us nor justify us.
But just outside his gate is a poor man named Lazarus – who by virtue of his name is ironic. We have already mentioned that Lazarus is a nickname for Eleazar which means “God has helped,” but here he is humiliated. He doesn’t seem like he is getting help from God nor is he getting any help from the rich man. Lazarus seems to be left to fend for himself, and all he desires is the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. But instead of getting a crumb for himself, the dogs eat all the crumbs. And to add insult to injury the dogs who receive the crumbs come and lick Lazarus’ sores.
Just this past week, we had our own Lazarus right outside our doors here at the church. A homeless man was seeking for a place to stay and some food. This man was alone and was turning to anyone who would help him. We provided him food and water and a bus ticket so that he could stay with his relatives.
But according to our sinful nature it often times seems that you who even bear the name Christian are left on your own with no help from your Lord. People may make a mockery of you for waking up early on Sunday morning and going to church. We may even get some kind of illness, especially big ones like cancer, or face relational and financial problems. During those times of trial it may seem as though we are left alone with no one who can help us. In these times of trial we must remember that God is our helper.
In the death of Lazarus we hear that God sends His angels and they carried him to Abraham’s bosom. But in the death of the rich man, he was not able to be comforted by his worldly possessions, nor was his self-justification enough to provide eternal comfort for himself. The rich man was in torment in Hades, that place of eternal fire. He is now the one who needs a helper. He lifts his eyes toward heaven and sees Abraham and Lazarus in his bosom. “AND HE CALLED OUT, ‘FATHER ABRAHAM, HAVE MERCY ON ME, AND SEND LAZARUS TO DIP THE END OF HIS FINGER IN WATER AND COOL MY TOUNGUE, FOR I AM IN ANGUISH IN THIS FLAME.’ The rich man who did not provide any help or comfort to Lazarus now asks Abraham to send Lazarus to help and comfort him.
BUT ABRAHAM SAID, ‘CHILD, REMEMBER THAT YOU IN YOUR LIFETIME RECEIVED YOUR GOOD THINGS, AND LAZARUS IN LIKE MANNER BAD THINGS; BUT NOW HE IS COMFORTED HERE, AND YOU ARE IN ANGUISH. AND BESIDES ALL THIS, BETWEEN US AND YOU A GREAT CHASM HAS BEEN FIXED, IN ORDER THAT THOSE WHO WOULD PASS HERE TO YOU MAY NOT BE ABLE, AND NONE MAY CROSS FROM THERE TO US.” The rich man is in a helpless situation as are all who refuse to receive the help that is given by Christ’s death and resurrection. He now clearly knows the consequence of his sin, but it is too late. No help or comfort can come to him.
“AND HE SAID, ‘THEN I BEG YOU, FATHER, TO SEND HIM TO MY FATHER’S HOUSE – FOR I HAVE FIVE BROTHERS – SO THAT HE MAY WARN THEM, LEST THEYALSO COME INTO THIS PLACE OF TORMENT.’ BUT ABRAHAM SAID, ‘THEY HAVE MOSES AND THE PROPHETS; LET THEM HEAR THEM.” Now for the first time he desires to help someone else – his brothers – by warning them about the place that he is in. Everything that he believed was wrong and he regrets his decision to try to earn salvation on his own through money, possessions, and worldly status. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to be a messenger to his brothers, but Abraham refuses because there is no need to send Lazarus back from the dead. The message of salvation can be clearly heard through Moses and the prophets as they foretell and point Jesus who is the helper of all mankind. The rich man’s brothers can listen to the words of our Lord in the scriptures which call all people to repentance and faith in Jesus whom the Father sent as our helper.
Yet, because of our sinful nature, we think the scriptures are of no help to us or for anyone else. Even though we know what the scriptures say, we doubt them. Instead of the scriptures helping us by calling us to repentance and faith in Christ, we think we need to help the scriptures. We turn to our own understanding and way of thinking and try to explain scripture in a way that is pleasing to us so that we may gain a reputation, status, and be glorified in this world. We want scientific fact – flesh and blood instead of a message on pages of paper. The rich man desires this too when he says to Abraham, “BUT IF SOMEONE GOES TO THEM FROM THE DEAD, THEY WILL REPENT.”
Jesus, who is our helper, has risen from the dead and showed himself to His disciples so that they may believe. But these days, we do not get to see Jesus standing in our presence. Instead, we get the testimony of those who did see Him. Their testimony is recorded for us in four Gospel accounts that tell us who our helper is. They tell us what our helper taught so that we may know, understand, and believe what He has done. Our Helper, looks as one who did not receive any help. “He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.” He was beaten beyond recognition and hung and died on a cross for all to see. Jesus was sealed in a tomb and on the third day He rose from the dead and showed himself to his disciples so that they may write down their testimony for you so that you too may repent and believe. Blessed are you who have not seen, yet still believe.
You are one whom God has helped. He brought you to faith in Him by His word. He has claimed you as His own child for the sake of His Son in the waters of your baptism. And he continues to help you today and tomorrow by keeping you in faith through the preached word, the absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. And with His help, according to His promise, He will send angels to carry you to rest in His bosom where you will be comforted and freed from all of your troubles of this life for all eternity.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. +