Prince was an American entertainer known for his amazing music, flamboyant stage presence, extravagant dress and makeup. He was one of the top recording artists of all time selling over 100 million records. He died on April 21, 2016 of a prescription drug overdose, and his sizable estate has gone to probate. Over 700 people have filed claims as siblings, half siblings, and descendants. Nobody knows how many hundreds of millions Prince was worth, but one thing is clear: he left it all. We may never have as much as Prince, but whatever we have, we, too, will leave it all behind. Job put it this way: “Naked came I into the world, and naked shall I go out.” Jesus said that we can’t measure the value of our life in the abundance of things we possess. What we have is only ours to manage on behalf of our Creator to Whom everything actually belongs. When our time comes, we will leave it all.
That seems to be the theme of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Many people quote this story in support of their belief in heaven and hell. Let me say at this point that, whatever your view of heaven and hell is, do not base it on this parable. The way to interpret a parable is to find the main point and stick to it. To try to score multiple doctrinal points based on a parable is foolish. The theme of this parable is the wise use of wealth, and we can profit from sticking to this idea.
It certainly wasn’t wrong for this man to be rich. A popular American reality show asks, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” I’d raise my hand! I’d love to be a millionaire. We often hear, of course, that we can’t buy happiness. The Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy me love.” Fair enough, but you know, we often say, ‘don’t believe everything you hear.’ Yeah, I don’t know if you can buy happiness, but I’d rather try it myself than take someone else’s word for it!
Just kidding, of course, but I’m trying to make the point that it’s not wrong to be rich. The point of this parable is not that money is bad and poverty is good. What we have isn’t the point, but rather what we do with what we have. If all our stuff belongs to God, then, all joking aside, it’s a serious thing what we do with God’s stuff.
The Apostle John wrote, “Don’t love the world or the things that belong to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so does our selfish desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father. The world and the desire to have are disappearing, but if we obey God, we will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17 CEV)
“We know what love is, because Jesus gave his life for us. That’s why we must give our lives for each other. If we have all we need and see other people who don’t, we must have pity on them, or else we cannot say we love God. You show love for others by truly helping them, and not merely by talking about it. (1 John 3:15-18 CEV)
So, this rich man, who wore expensive clothes and every day ate the best food, only used the wealth for himself. He thought it was his because he earned it, or because he inherited it, or because he had invested it, or whatever. This rich man never gave a thought to the idea, that what he had was really God’s, and that he should look for ways to use his wealth in God’s interests.
In this parable both Lazarus and the rich man died, but their after life experience was not the same. The rich man asked Abraham and Lazarus for help, but when he found out that they couldn’t help him, he asked that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers. “Well,” Abraham said, “Your brothers can read the Bible for themselves.”
“That’s not enough!” the rich man said. ” but if someone were to rise from the dead, they would listen and turn to God.” Abraham said, “If they won’t pay attention to the Scriptures, they won’t listen even if someone comes back from the dead.”
That’s the dilemma of evangelism today. We base the Christian message on the Bible, but people don’t believe the Bible. If only someone would be resurrected– now, that would make a difference, right? But Jesus did come back from the dead, and they didn’t believe that, either.
The problem is that, in general, people do not want to hear that their life is not their own, that they are bought with a price, and that they should order their lives around what God wants. They don’t feel they need God, so they go their own way.
We who follow Christ, however, realize that our lives belong to the Creator. We try to live in a way that will please God. Christ did rise from the dead, and because of that, we, too, shall rise. Now, we need to act as though we believe this.
We only have this life in which to do the things God wants us to do. Once we’re dead, we can’t come back. There are no do-overs as there are in the games that children play. Someone has said, “Only one life, so soon it will pass. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.” If we believe that’s true, let’s act like it.
We pray. Lord of all we are and all that we have, we acknowledge that our lives are in your hands. Through Christ, You have given us richly all things to enjoy. By Your Spirit, help us to use who we are and what we have to please you. Amen.