Befriending all whom God befriends
INTRODUCTION TO THE WEEK
This week’s study contains two parables of Jesus. Parables are riddle-like stories whose point is not only to teach something, but to change the mind of the hearer so that he or she begins to think like a true disciple of Jesus. As the stories are rather long, they will be divided up over several days so that they can “soak” not only into your mind, but into your heart. Let Jesus be your teacher this week, through these provocative stories.
Monday: The Rich Man and Lazarus, Part I
Before we even begin the parable for today, it is important to know who was
listening to Jesus, and what was happening in their conversation before Jesus turns
to tell the parable. Here is a slice of the conversation that precedes the story of the
rich man and Lazarus:
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.
So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others;
but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:14-15).
The author of the Gospel of Luke took pains to develop the character of Jesus as
God’s prophet, concerned with how people of faith were ignoring the portions of
Torah that had to do with justice, especially the treatment of the poor. A prophet
boldly proclaims God’s point of view, even when threatened by those who want to
seek only their own advantage. [There is a deeper discussion of what it means to be
a prophet in the sessions on disciples as prophets.]
• In the verses above, you can hear the sharp criticism of the Pharisees as “lovers of
money,” people who had lost sight of the long-range view of what God desires, in
favor of the short-term rewards of money, pride, and comfort.
• Historically, it would be important not to confuse what is said about Pharisees here in this particular passage with what can be known about Pharisees more generally
in their time-period, when they were known as people who were dedicated to
holiness in daily life, not as “lovers of money.” They serve here as a warning to us
that even those who are dedicated to the things of God can fool themselves into
thinking that they deserve comfort and luxury at the expense of society’s weakest
So Jesus begins to tell this story:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted
sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered
with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s
table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores (Luke 16:19-21).
Even in these few verses, we get a sense for the story-teller’s art. In a way, the teller
lets us see the action from a God’s-eye view, and from that view we see just where
God’s heart unfolds in compassion.
• The rich man, who is not even named here, is less the focus of God’s concern than
the poor man, who is named Lazarus.
• Even the dogs have more compassion than the rich man, who practically has to
step over the suffering Lazarus as he goes out or into the gateway of his fine house.
• The rich man is clothed in purple and fine linen, while Lazarus is “clothed” in
sores; the rich man feasts every day, while Lazarus would be content with the
scraps that fall off the rich man’s table, if only he would be allowed to have them.
This parable is a painful story of the needs of our nearest neighbors, people so close
that we may feel threatened by their needs.
Questions for Reflection
• What do you think keeps the rich man from noticing Lazarus? What is he afraid
• What does it mean to be a “lover of money”? Jesus contrasts what is prized by
human beings with what is prized by God. What does this story tell you about
what God prizes?
• Who are your nearest neighbors in need? Are they next-door to you? Do they live a mile away? Are they even in your family? I live in a large city, where there are
several school districts, so one way I have gotten a sense for my nearest neighbors
has been to chart out the boundaries of our Elementary School district, which is
quite varied in terms of socio-economic well-being. I have ridden my bicycle
down all the streets of our district, and you might be able to do something similar.
Or you could simply drive your car within your zip code. If you live in a small
town, you may be very aware of your neighbors already. What do you imagine
their needs might be? What do they care about? How do they celebrate holidays?
Are there ways in which your lives are already intertwined? How are you changed
when your prayers begin to include the needs of your nearest neighbors?
Most gracious God, you see not only my needs, but those of all who live near me.
Empower me to hear my own story inside this parable, and to become your
instrument in the community where I live, in the name of Jesus, my teacher and my