Exalting the Lowly
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As the old saying goes, “Looks can be deceiving.” They were certainly deceiving in case of the rich man and Lazarus. The world looks at the rich man and Lazarus in one way, but God has an altogether different perspective. From the world's point of view it is this nameless rich man who is the blessed man, the man with the good life. After all, he has wealth and power. He lives by the “golden rule”—that is, “He who has the gold, rules.” And he does rule his own little world. Jesus describes his life like this: “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” He has the image. He is well-dressed and well-fed. This rich man lives in the security of his wealth. It appears that he doesn't need anything. In the eyes of the world he is the model of success.
Then there is Lazarus. Jesus identifies him as a “beggar” who was “full of sores.” Now, Lazarus stands in stark contrast to the rich man. The rich man has his house while Lazarus is laid at his gate. The rich man dines from a full table, while Lazarus is lucky to get the crumbs that fall from his table—the table scraps of half-eaten dishes. The rich man is clothed with expensive attire—“purple and fine linen”—while Lazarus is clothed with sores. No doubt the rich man had friends to grace his parties with their presence. But Lazarus had only the dogs to lick his sores. In the eyes of the world, Lazarus is pitiful and sad. He is seen as a failure.
But the world does not see as God sees. And when God looks on the rich man and Lazarus, He sees something very different. He sees things as they are. What man exalts, God sees as an abomination. What man despises, God sees as blessed. This is the great reversal which Mary sang of in her Magnificat, when she said of our God and Savior:
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
This is what Jesus speaks of in the beatitudes when He says: “Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh....But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.”
God's judgment on both the rich man and Lazarus reverses things. Both die. Death made clear what was hidden from human sight in this life. Death made clear how each of these men stood before God. Lazarus' death was a blessed death. He died and was escorted by the holy angels into paradise. Lazarus no longer laid outside the gate. The holy angels carried him through the gates of heaven and into presence of God. He was given rest at “Abraham's bosom.” This hungry man is now satisfied at the heavenly banquet. There are no more tormenting sores for him. Lazarus is revealed to be the blessed man. Indeed, in death the very truth of the name of Lazarus—“the one whom God helps”—is made manifest. In his life human eyes could not see this divine help. It was hidden. But now it is revealed.
Death was also a revelation of how it was with the rich man. The end of His unbelief is hell. He was not condemned because he is rich, but because his riches were his god. He did not draw his life from the Word of God, but from his own wealth. The very “god” that he had “feared, loved, and trusted above all things” in this life was not able to save him from death and God's judgment. Now he is in torment while Lazarus enjoys the riches of heaven. Indeed, the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty. The judgment of God is final. The boundaries between heaven and hell are completely closed. Once the day of grace has ended there are no second chances. In vain did the rich man plead for a visit from Lazarus to bring him so much as a cooling drop of water. It is too late.
But Jesus made it clear that this teaching is not so much about riches and poverty as it is about faith in the crucified and risen Lord Himself. The rich man then thought of his five brothers who were still alive and so he made the request that Lazarus be sent back to earth to testify to them, “lest they too also come into this place of torment.” Remember Abraham's answer: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” God does not use ghosts to bring people to repentance and faith; He uses His Word. If people will not hear the Scriptures, they will not be convinced, “though one should rise from the dead.” Here the Lord spoke prophetically of His own death and resurrection. No sign, not even the sign of Jesus' own resurrection from the grave, will convince those who do not believe the Scriptures.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Your blessedness does not lie in your wealth, your learning, your career, or in your prestige. Your blessedness lies in the faith you received in Holy Baptism, faith which lays hold of Jesus Christ, who suffered and died as the atoning sacrifice for your sins and was raised again to give life to all who look to Him. Apart from Him, all appearances to the contrary, there is only death. But in Him there is life. Lazarus came to know that life. God grant unto us the same blessing. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.