Luke 16:19-31 (NRSV)
19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 27 He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house- 28 for I have five brothers-that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29 Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30 He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
In the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays a football player named Rod Tidwell. His agent is a fellow named Jerry Maguire played by Tom Cruise. At one point in the movie Rod Tidwell says to Jerry, "Show me the money." In other words, get me a lucrative contract.
Money is a powerful thing. If you have a lot of it, you can make things happen. You can indulge yourself and others and you will be placed among the fortunate. If you don't have it, life is difficult. Having no money places a person at the bottom of society. If we are honest, money has, more often than not, occupied the corner office in our hierarchy of values.
In the early 70's, about the time my father put a lawnmower in my hands and set me to mowing lawns to make my own spending money, there was a popular television commercial for a certain brand of beer. The commercial portrayed two couples on a sailboat out for a weekend of fun and recreation. The couples were well tanned with perfect bodies. Their hair blew in the breeze while the sun danced on the water. They laughed, ate fancy food, and, of course, guzzled beer. These were beautiful people and as you watched them enjoy themselves, the voice-over reminded us: "You only go around once in life. Grab for all the gusto you can!" And what makes all that gusto possible? Money, of course!
Jesus knew that money was full of potential. It could be used for good or bad. Jesus told the rich, young ruler to give his money away because He knew that money had become the center of his life. He taught Zacchaeus, who previously had extorted money from his neighbors, to give it back. Zacchaeus did this because he was a new man in Christ. In the story of the "Widow's Mite," Jesus praised the woman for giving out of her poverty whereas the wealthy in the story paraded their wealth to the altar.
Jesus knows that in too many instances money takes the place of God. Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig writes:
Money is a tremendous projection carrier. Because money is so faceless, so neutral, we tend to project on it more easily. ...Nearly everything can be projected on money: power, sexuality and, in some bizarre way, even reality. Some people think that money is THE REALITY, the REAL THING. (Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig, Soul and Money)
The rich man in Jesus story thought that money was the "THE REALITY" or "THE REAL THING." That's the way he lived his life. It was also the way the Pharisees lived. They were a lot like the rich man in the story and it was to them that Jesus was speaking. The Pharisees were a money-obsessed bunch. The Gospel of Luke describes them as "lovers of money."
The rich man and the Pharisees were set for life. Just like the rich man they received their "good things" during this lifetime. They lived in a different world than most of the population. They didn't have the day-to-day struggles of the poor. The real issue, though, was that they wore their money and pride like jewelry. They had more wealth than they could ever use. Yet they belittled those who lived hand-to-mouth. With all of their status and power they strutted through life giving no care for God or man or woman or anybody else. Their theology said, "God blesses the good people, and God punishes the bad people." Their Gospel was a Gospel of wealth. But Jesus rejected their theology and challenged them to move to a theology of compassion and care.
So what is Jesus trying to say to us in this story of role reversals?
- Jesus is saying YOU CANNOT TRUST MONEY AND GOD.
- Jesus is saying, MONEY CAN CAUSE US TO CLOSE OUR EYES TO THE NEEDS OF OTHERS
- Jesus is saying, MONEY CAN CAUSE SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS
- Jesus is saying, ASK GOD TO HELP YOU WITH YOUR MONEY
Think about it.