Apr 14 2013 - Luke 16:19-17:10 – Uncomfortable words
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus makes for uncomfortable reading. It affirms that there are rewards and punishments in the life to come and a clear separation between those who suffer punishment and those who receive blessing. However, it scarcely fits the simplistic presentation of the gospel – trust in Jesus and you have a guaranteed place with Abraham. Rather its focus is upon the conduct and lifestyle of the rich man. He used what he had been given to ensure that he lived a comfortable life while others starved at his gate. This is why he finds himself now in torment.
Jesus' teaching is designed to disturb the comfortable – those who are at ease in Zion. Jesus came not simply to give a free ticket to heaven; he came to transform a world gone wrong, a world marked by greed, injustice, oppression and self-worship. He calls for us not only to believe in him but to follow him into the life of the kingdom, a life that turns this world's values upside down. He calls us to follow him in the way of the cross, giving ourselves to the service of others.
This parable is an uncomfortable one for Western Christians, for we have made ourselves comfortable in a world of need.
I am not suggesting that we need to beat ourselves up or go on some sort of guilt trip, nor that we should give away all that we possess and make ourselves beggars in following Jesus. Our ability to give to others depends upon us having something to give. Rather, I am issuing the challenge to myself and to you; we need to listen to what Jesus is saying and to hear it afresh for ourselves. We need honestly to ask how this parable addresses us and not to assume that is has nothing more to say to us because we are trusting in Jesus.
In particular, we need to ask what we are doing with all that God has given us. Are we using it to make ourselves comfortable or are we using it also for the help and comfort of others. We need to hear afresh what the Lord requires of us.
Jesus came to transform the world, but many of those who followed him were looking only for a free lunch – or perhaps a more impressive sign. Jesus said, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Believing in his resurrection requires us to live towards the world to come – a world from which greed and injustice shall be banished for ever.
The kingdom is displayed in the way we live towards others – it’s about living well together and being a blessing to one another. And it’s not just about our use of possessions; it’s also about attitudes of the heart. Jesus calls us to forgive one another and to go on forgiving – though this does not mean being blind to another’s faults (17:3-4). But above all, Jesus tells us to be careful never to discourage someone else in their following of Christ. He warns those who lead others away from him that they will face the severest judgment (17:1-3). We need to treat his words seriously, take them to heart and ensure that his words shape our thoughts and our conduct.
Lord Jesus, help me not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but to be transformed in every aspect of my life by the help and power of your Spirit. Out of personal transformation, enable me to have a transforming influence upon the world around me, that I may bring into it something of the life of the age to come. Help me to hear your voice and follow you, and so to be an encouragement and blessing to others.