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Beggars and Gates
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This text is not about money. Yes, Jesus tells the story of two men whose lifestyles were extremely different. However, both were beggars: the one at the gate of the rich man, the other at the gate of heaven. And Jesus draws the contrast between these two men rather sharply. It was not only that the one was rich and the other poor. The rich man lived in a luxury that was evident to all. He dressed in the finest clothing money could buy, and his table was a feast at every meal. Then there was Lazarus, the poor man, who barely had the means even for the bare minimum of daily life. But that’s just the background; this text is not about money.
Then both men died, and the contrast between them, as Jesus described it, was just as sharp. If it seemed to be about money before, it definitely was not about money now. Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham, a way of describing heaven. The rich man was consigned to hell and its endless torment. And there was no way to cross from one to the other. The rich man’s life was an utter failure—not by typical societal standards, of course, but by God’s standards. Even though he was rich, it was not having money that condemned him. After all, Lazarus rested in Abraham’s bosom, and Abraham was wealthy beyond reckoning. Merely being wealthy neither saves nor condemns anyone. The rich man’s failure lay in his not meeting the responsibilities his wealth had given him. It’s not that he was cruel to Lazarus; he just didn’t see him. It was the kind of blindness that grows out of an absence of the awareness of God which also leaves one unaware of his neighbor. He failed not because he was wealthy, but because he had shut both God and man out of his life.
This story paints a vivid picture of the consequences of such failure. After both men had died, a great gulf showed up between them: so great that it was impossible to cross from one side to the other. That gulf did not appear suddenly after death; it had been in the making for a long time. Every time the rich man went out of his gate and ignored Lazarus lying there, the gulf grew wider and deeper. In this life there was still time to change that situation. But with an awful finality, death sealed the judgments of God. “Send Lazarus.” It was a pathetic cry of isolation. He had no one to help him. Now he was the beggar at the gate of heaven.
If you have been given wealth, God has given you a privilege to use responsibly. If you will only look, there is a Lazarus at your gate. The world is full of people whose lives cry out for help, whether it’s a mere crust of bread or a drink of water, a home to live in, or just a place where life can take on some meaning. Above all, there is a Lazarus at your gate who needs the Gospel, so that he may no longer live in darkness but in the light of saving grace.
There is a responsibility that goes with possession. As Scripture teaches, “no man lives unto himself.” And this is especially true when we have received the greatest of all gifts, Jesus Christ. We have His Word; we have His forgiveness. What is more, as Christians, we are members of a community that has the right to expect something from us. In his “Treatise on the Blessed Sacrament,” Luther points this up so clearly. He sees the fellowship of Christians coming into focus especially in the Lord’s Supper. It is two-fold, he says: “On the one hand, we partake of Christ and all the saints. On the other hand we permit all Christians to be partakers of us, in whatever way they and we are able, so that through this Sacrament all self-seeking love is uprooted and gives place to love that seeks the good of all, and through this mutual love there is one bread, one drink, one body, one community; the true union of Christian brothers.”
But such concern for others never just happens. It grows out of knowing and having the forgiving love of God in Christ. Having that love makes today, and every day, a day of opportunity. God speaks; we hear His voice. The rich man had ignored that voice. The same was true for his brothers. If only something dramatic could happen, something like Lazarus returning from the dead to warn them! But God said, “No. They have My Word, and that is enough.” We, too, have His Word, and it is enough for us.
Two beggars, for whom eternity brought the justice of God, stand as reminders to us, not only of the obligations that come with blessing, but also the joy that accompanies that life and salvation in Jesus Christ, which we have the privilege to offer to others. God grant us joy in sharing the fruits He has given us—and especially the fruits of faith and forgiveness. 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.