What matters most to God?

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Scripture: Luke 16:19 “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.

Observation: This story would have surprised ancient readers. Remember, the theology of the day suggested that rich people were blessed by God for their righteousness. Poor/sick people were being punished for their sins. Yet, here we have an upside down reality. The poor man Lazarus died and was with Abraham and the angels of God. The rich man, in Hades, was in torment. It’s a fictional example of “the first will be last and the last will be first” in the Kingdom of God.

So what did the rich man do to fall out of favor with God? You have to remember that God’s view of righteousness was less about pious acts (prayer, tithe, fasting, offering sacrifices) and more about mercy and justice for the poor and marginalized. The rich man may have performed all the right religious acts, but he clearly did nothing to help Lazarus who sat at the rich man’s gate every day in want. Apparently, in the eyes of God, caring for the sick and hungry is very, very important.

Application: When I read this story I don’t see myself as the rich man, but I suppose I am. I’m much more like him than like Lazarus – at least from a material resources standpoint. The story is a parable, which means the events never actually happened but are shared to teach a lesson. What’s the lesson? For me, it’s a reminder of how important it is to God that we show mercy and kindness to those in need. It has me asking myself, “How am I doing on that score?”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you prefer kindness and mercy over pious religious acts. Open my eyes today to see how I might be an extension of you in my world, showing love and mercy to persons in need. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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