Advent: December 22

Luke 16:19-31

There was once a rich man who wore expensive clothes and every day ate the best food. But a poor beggar named Lazarus was brought to the gate of the rich man's house. He was happy just to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. His body was covered with sores, and dogs kept coming up to lick them. The poor man died, and angels took him to the place of honour next to Abraham.

The rich man also died and was buried. He went to hell and was suffering terribly. When he looked up and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side, he said to Abraham, "Have pity on me! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch my tongue. I'm suffering terribly in this fire."

Abraham answered, "My friend, remember that while you lived, you had everything good, and Lazarus had everything bad. Now he is happy, and you are in pain. And besides, there is a deep ditch between us, and no one from either side can cross over." But the rich man said, "Abraham, then please send Lazarus to my father's home. Let him warn my five brothers, so they won't come to this horrible place."

Abraham answered, "Your brothers can read what Moses and the prophets wrote. They should pay attention to that." Then the rich man said, "No, that's not enough! If only someone from the dead would go to them, they would listen and turn to God." So Abraham said, "If they won't pay attention to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even to someone who comes back from the dead."

The rich man showed no respect to the laws of hospitality – he may have feasted with those like him, or with his family, but he ignored the plight of the poor. The poor man Lazarus made no fuss, and presumably saw being able to eat some scraps that fell from the rich man’s table – perhaps it’s a form of gleaning. He even put up with the dogs.

Obviously, this is a story Jesus made up, though in our world there are millions like Lazarus and many like the rich man. We have to go back to Isaiah 58 to remember what God said about people in need:

I'll tell you what it really means to worship the LORD. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless.

The demands of this verse are great. Read each part and ask yourself if you are doing what God has told us we should do. We should feel uncomfortable if we do not respond in any way. God will not be ready to accept any hands or voices raised up in worship from those who care only about themselves. I do not want to turn up to a worship meeting and be all cosy with God when I’m ignoring injustice in the real world.

Will there be fire and suffering for the ungodly? All I know is this – there’s none where I’m going, and, rather than argue about what hell is like with those who think it’s a myth and a joke, I’m simply proclaiming the higher place. Accentuate the positive.

What should we, individually or through our churches and fellowships, be saying to our government regarding justice?

We are being made aware of the sexual abuse carried out by priests and others in churches. Should I care if it wasn’t in my denomination?

How do I respond to the (ever-present – Matthew 26:11) poor, the homeless, those unable to cope, the fatherless, the widows, the orphans, the abused, the prisoners, the oppressed? Where do I start? Do those “at home” deserve my charity more?

Father God, the door to heaven is open to all those who call on the Name of Jesus. I might now sit down and do nothing else, but You call me to be part of your work of salvation. Use me, Lord, for your purposes, as an ambassador of Christ Jesus in this fallen world. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

Paul