Monday, 4 March 2013

Money Matters: Lessons From The Story of Lazarus And The Rich Man

The issue of money and wealth, and what we do with is a clearly important topic, and is the subject one-sixth of the gospels touch upon, including one out of every three parables.  It is an issue which is also central to the story of Lazarus and the rich man, sometimes referred to as Lazarus and Dives.

What we work for, and what we do with our wealth clearly matter to God.   

In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, there is a stark contrast drawn between the wealth of the rich man, who wore the finest clothing, ate the best food, lived in a beautiful house, surrounded by many possessions, and the poverty of Lazarus, who had nothing.  No fine clothes, just what he wore on his back, no food, but only that which he could beg or which he could scrounge of the streets, and no home.  No place of safety or refuge.
It wasn’t the case that the rich man was cruel or unkind to Lazarus, it was simply that Lazarus was invisible to him.  He did not see him at all, despite the fact he lived on his doorstep.
The parable acts as a warning about what can happen if our wealth and material possessions take the central place in our lives.  About what can happen if we define ourselves by what we own, not what we are. 
Others looked through the doorway and saw a poor man there; the rich man looked and saw nobody. 
As I read this passage the challenge I’m left pondering is, how different am I?  I may not have anyone living on my doorstep, but what about the people living rough on the streets in Walsall?  Or the people living in extreme poverty around the world? 
Do I notice them?  Do I see them as people?  Or do I turn the other way, and ignore them, and pretend they are not there? 
It is easy to read this parable and stand in judgement over the rich man, but I wonder how different we really are.  After all, we may not feel particularly wealthy, but compared to the vast majority of people in the world, we are incredibly wealthy.  It is estimated that 80% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day, and half the world’s population live on less than $2.50.  That 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water , and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation, and 1.6 billion lack basic shelter. 

We may not think we are rich, but we are, and therefore what we do with our wealth really matters. 

How we handle our money, reveals much about our depth of commitment to Christ.  Godfrey Davis, who wrote a biography about the Duke of Wellington, said, "I found an old account ledger that showed how the Duke spent his money. It was a far better clue to what he thought was really important than the reading of his letters or speeches.

How do we compare to the rich man?  Are we any better than him?  We should not feel guilty about earning money, or for that matter wealth.  Wealth in itself is not evil or wrong.  But it is what we do with it that matters.  In the section immediately preceding this parable, Jesus says, we cannot serve two masters, we will either hate the one and love the other, or we will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  We cannot serve both God and money. 
And as the story of Lazarus and the rich man shows, the decisions we make in this life, affects what happens to us in the life to come.  Both Lazarus and the rich man die, Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man is sent to hell. 

It is clear that the rich man had a religious part to his life.  Because he cries out to Abraham for help, it is clear that both he and his brothers had been brought up with the teachings of Moses.  But he had compartmentalised his life.  So that there was a divide between the sacred and the secular.  He did not allow his religious beliefs and knowledge to influence other areas of his life.  For instance how he used his wealth. 

Do we allow our faith to shape what we do?  When we make decisions, do we consider how they may affect others?  Do we use our wealth or the gifts we have been given for the benefit of others?  What are our priorities in life? 

There are many challenges in this story of Lazarus and the rich man.  Challenges about what we do with in our money.  Challenges about the daily decisions we make.  The question I leave with you is are we making the most of the opportunities God gives us each day to help others? 

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