Jesus teaches compassion for the poor
Quarter: Jesus and the Just Reign of God
Unit 2: Jesus ushers in the Reign of God
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 26, 2014
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Luke 16: 10, 19-31
Background Scripture: Luke 16
The lesson this week begins with the key verse, Jesus’ summary of a parable about one of the least admirable of New Testament characters – the shrewd manager. Of course, he is not urging us to imitate his character, but encouraging us to be wise (shrewd) in the use of worldly wealth. Here is the core of this lesson: how are we to use the resources we have. Frankly, this saying of Jesus is one we wish he hadn’t said!
In today’s lesson, this verse is the introduction to one of Jesus’ most powerful stories – the Rich Man and Lazarus. We have always been impressed with the personal references by name and condition of Lazarus and the anonymity of the rich man and his important family. Heaven’s standards are indeed different from the world. The obituary of Lazarus takes us all the way through heaven’s gates to the bosom of Abraham while the unknown rich man languishes in hades. Our attention is immediately grabbed by Jesus’ show and tell.
The vivid contrast between the life of the rich man and the pitiful existence of Lazarus brings into sharp focus Jesus’ compassion as reflected by Luke for the “last, the least, and the lost.” With the dogs he scrambles for food from the garbage can. Lest we think the parable is only a story, have you seen similar pictures on TV and in other media? At the same time, the rich man is feasting on the very best.
Many of us may remember during World War II our mothers and grandmothers urging us to eat all our food while referring to the starving Chinese. Today, many persons around the world are caught in famine while faith-based and secular agencies seek to relieve the suffering. Our mail boxes are inundated with appeals for funds to feed the poor, the children, Appalachia, American Indians, the Sudan, Biafra, and the list goes on and on. Layers of guilt are accumulated while we are over-fed and unhealthy because of obesity. Sam read a recent medical report from one of his doctors describing him as “a well-developed, well-nourished white male!” He thinks the doctor is being discrete in referring to the fact he is overweight!
As is true for all, both men die. God’s justice is pictured vividly with the separation between the two. The lifestyle separating them on earth is reversed – and the separation is fixed for eternity. While on earth there was much the rich man could have done to alleviate the suffering of Lazarus. That opportunity is now lost forever. Who is pitiful now? The rich man’s plea for relief is answered in a resounding and eternal “NO!”
Even though his concern for his family is admirable, that door is shut as well. The critical verse is vs. 29: “They have Moses and the Prophets.” Basically, Abraham is saying the Bible is adequate to know what is required to live within God’s will. For Jews, Moses included all the Books of the Law. The Prophets were the Major and the Minor prophets and also the historical books. In other words, the major message of the scriptures, according to the Hebrew Bible, is compassion for the poor. Conveniently, we choose to focus our attention in scripture elsewhere.
In fact, today some are preaching a gospel of prosperity earned and deserved as a sign of righteousness. Such a reading of scripture enables us to miss Lazarus at the gate. Did the rich man not “see” him? Did he eliminate him as a person because of his status in life? Compassion involves two elements: attitude and action. Our attitude toward persons can be conditioned by a variety of different elements: money, race, geography, occupation, to name a few.
If we are not aware of individuals caught in the cycle of poverty and think only of groups, we will probably take no action except an occasional check. When there is a personal face on need, we are far more likely to do something. As this lesson is written, a story on the evening news informed viewers of 49 million Americans living below the poverty level. This week we attended a marvelous choral presentation by a high school group. All the singers are from a Title I school where they receive breakfast and lunch. The dropout rate for the school is close to 50 percent but the dropout rate of the chorus is less than 2 percent! A senior shared his story. For two months, his family lived out of an automobile. He walks to this school six miles each day. He is auditioning for a music scholarship to a nearby university. It would be easy to see him as just one among many and eliminate him like Lazarus – but not the leader of this group of talented young people. She is making a real difference in many lives. She has a remarkable balance of attitude and action.
A change in attitude to really see people leads to action that can change lives and open doors of opportunity. When we see individuals as sisters and brothers in Christ, we cannot ignore them. In truth, they are our “blood kin!” Calvary makes them such!
The parable closes on an enigmatic note. After being told that his family has the Word in the Law and the Prophets, he implies the insufficiency of scripture to convince them. “Send someone from the dead”, he suggests as a way to get their attention. Luke’s Gospel has an answer with which the world still struggles. They will not be convinced “even if someone rises from the dead.” We disciples of Jesus know that “someone,” and we not only have Moses and the Prophets, but the message given by that someone forces us to examine our attitudes and actions in relationship to all the many like Lazarus.