“The Goal of Sensitivity to the Needy”

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Dcn. Garry Salguero

The story of the rich man and Lazarus dramatically illustrates two characteristics of the Pharisees: first, they sought to win men’s approval by their outward appearances, rather than God’s approval, based upon the heart. Secondly, in so doing they had rejected the Old Testament Scriptures, the “Law and the Prophets,” exchanging the divine standard of righteousness for a human standard.

Based upon appearances, it would seem that the rich man would be pronounced righteous and enter into God’s kingdom, and Lazarus would be rejected and condemned; but the outcome upon the death of these two men was just the reverse. Appearances, Jesus proved, were deceptive. Men would “highly esteem” the rich man, but God rejected him. Men would despise Lazarus, but God justified him.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus concludes in such a way as to indicate what really justifies a man. The rich man was not condemned because he was rich, any more than the poor man was justified for being poor. The real basis for justification or condemnation is to be found in the context of the rich man’s concern for his lost brothers. Too late, he realized that the issue then was not the wealth or poverty of these men, but whether or not they believed the Scriptures and applied them to their lives. It is not economic status which determines one’s destiny, but belief or unbelief. Thus, the last portion of the parable illustrates the second charge of our Lord against the Pharisees—that they had exchanged the eternal, unchanging standards of the Law and the Prophets for the ever-changing standards of their society.

We, like the Pharisees, are in danger of using external criteria to judge spirituality, both in ourselves and in others. When we do so, we, like the Pharisees, will place too great a emphasis on money. There are many other ways in which we falsely measure spirituality by external appearances. Some measure it by one’s wealth, while others change the labels, and equate spirituality with poverty. Others judge it by a particular spiritual gift or a particular form of ministry (usually public, popular, and “successful”). Some measure spirituality by the way one’s children turn out, or by the number of days and nights one spends in church, or in church-related activities.

In the midst of a culture that highly values “a good self-image,” which is dangerously close to, if not identical with, self-love, let us seriously consider whom we are striving to please. God esteems meekness and humility. He teaches us to submit ourselves one to another. Let us carefully reassess our values, and consider the condition of our hearts. Only the Word of God can expose our true motives, so let us turn to the Scriptures, and not to society, even as our Lord has taught.                                              

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