This week’s lesson is again money or love-of-money related. There are a lot of things Christians like to harp on about related to morality, but Jesus talked about money more than a lot of those things. The only thing he talked about more was the Kingdom of God. And he wasn’t talking about how we should all be making more of it and enjoying the good life, but more about how we should be sharing and taking care of the poor. I think we probably all know that, but there are some people out there that seem to teach the opposite.
Here’s the basic story. There’s a really rich guy who lived in luxury and had a fine time of it. At his gate there is a beggar named Lazarus. (I just love how Jesus doesn’t bother giving the rich man a name but he names the poor man—how like him to humanize the weaker, needier person and just describe the other as a rich man—not what everyone would have done.) Lazarus is so poor that he wishes he could just eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table (the implication is that the rich man didn’t even share these) and he was so bad off that he was covered in sores and the dogs licked his sores. It’s descriptive and horrific.
Then both men die and Lazarus is carried by angels to Abraham’s side (Abraham is considered the forefather to all the Jewish people and Jesus is talking to his Jewish audience–I think we can safely call it heaven) and the rich man goes to Hades (hell). Now the roles are switched. Lazarus is happy and comforted in heaven but the rich man is in agony. Now he is looking up and wishing he could just have a tiny piece of what Lazarus has. So he calls out to Abraham and asks him to send Lazarus to him with just a drop of water to soothe his agony. Abraham responds that it’s impossible to do so. So the (former) rich man asks that Abraham send Lazarus to his family to warn them to change their ways. Abraham says they have Moses and the Prophets (the Jewish scriptures) so they don’t need further warning. The man says they will repent if someone dead comes to them. And Abraham responds that even if someone rises from the dead, they will not be convinced.
I think it’s important to not get bogged down in the eschatology here. (Eschatology: the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.) From what I understand, that is not really the point of the story. Jesus didn’t say, “Look here’s what happens when you die” and go on to describe heaven and hell. The story is more about the two men, poor and rich, and how the rich man ignored the poverty at his own gate. A lot of the Bible studies I’ve read in preparation have talked about this issue and how Lazarus was invisible to the man until he was himself in agony and had to look up and see Lazarus finally happy. Who might be invisible to us? Have we ever felt invisible to others when we were in need? I know there have been times my own kids probably felt invisible to me when I was caught up doing something (you know how they start repeating “Mommy mommy mommy” over and over because they seem to think you don’t hear them if they don’t repeat). Who might we pass by every day and not even see them–outcasts of society who are hurting and needing attention? What are we doing to help them and not hurt them further?
Jesus is criticized by religious leaders for teaching sinners and tax collectors.
So Jesus responds with a couple stories. First, he asks them to imagine you are someone who has 100 sheep and one is lost. The owner of the sheep goes and searches for it, leaving the other 99 in the field. When he finds it, he rejoices with his friends. Jesus says there is more joy for one lost sinner than 99 good people who don’t need to change.
Second, a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. She looks carefully until she finds it, and then she asks people to celebrate with her that she found it. Jesus says God is also happy when one sinner repents.
Again we must consider if we are living and loving like Jesus. Are we judging our fellow church members or fellow citizens of our towns and cities? Are we extending hospitality and mercy to those who need it most, to those who are hard to love as well as those who are easy to love and easy to look at? Look at your life and church today and see if you are reaching out and including people or judging and excluding people.
We can also consider the mercy extended to ourselves. We all have our moments (or years) of lostness, of failing and flailing. But God reaches out to us with love and forgiveness at all times. And we are all the same at God’s table–whether we are frequently lost or always on hand and serving. Thank God for his mercy.
In this passage, Jesus has a different tone than he often takes. He talks about bringing fire to the world and to divide families against each other. It’s definitely hyperbolic and less peaceful than Jesus often seems (though Jesus is not just about peace–he calls out evil and greed often).
This reminds me of how often we confuse “niceness” with love. Yes, be nice to people. Yes, strive to get along. Be generous to those in need. But also speak truth to power. Don’t excuse the rich and powerful when they are cruel to the poor and marginalized. Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Speak out on the side of justice and be merciful to those who need it–that’s the division Jesus is talking about. We aren’t to be needlessly cruel to the weak, but we are to be outspoken to the rich and powerful.
In today’s passage Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about his followers eating without following particular hand washing rituals. We know from previous passages that they aren’t asking this question casually but are no doubt trying to trap Jesus again. They are angry his followers aren’t following ancient tradition as they think it should be followed. (Am I the only one who wants to sing the “Tradition” song from Fiddler on the Roof every time I think of tradition?)
Jesus claps back as only Jesus can and calls them hypocrites and quotes Isaiah saying they only honor God with words and not in reality. He says they prefer man-made rules instead of God’s commands.
This reminds me of so many Christian leaders today who are vocal in our culture with rules that they think everyone should follow–such as rules regarding sexuality or gender. The hill they will choose to die on is whether or not homosexuality is a sin or whether or not women should be equal to men, rather than to care for the poor and to seek to correct injustice. They choose to follow narrow manmade rules that oppress rather than life-giving abundant rules to work for the good of all humanity.
Today’s story is Jesus telling his followers about a judgment to come in the future. He says the Son of Man will be sitting on a throne and all the people will be gathered before him. He will separate people into two groups like a shepherd separating sheep from goats–the sheep to his right and the goats to his left.
“Then the king will say to the godly people on his right, ‘Come, my Father has great blessings for you. The kingdom he promised is now yours. It has been prepared for you since the world was made.It is yours because when I was hungry, you gave me food to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I had no place to stay, you welcomed me into your home.When I was without clothes, you gave me something to wear. When I was sick, you cared for me. When I was in prison, you came to visit me.’
Matthew 25: 33-36 (Easy-to-Read Version)
They will be surprised that they ever did hose things for him, but he will answer, “The truth is, anything you did for any of my people here,you also did for me.”
The reverse occurs with the goats to his left–they are the ones who never did any of those things for others and so he rejects them.
The question Jesus is asking in this story is what have you done and what will you do for others? Because how you follow Jesus and how you love him is to love others. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the homeless, share clothes with those who need clothes, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. This is not just the task of the church, but of the individual. Whatever you do for God’s people (that is all the people–we are all God’s children), you do for Jesus Christ.
This section of scripture is usually called the “Beatitudes,” which means “statements of blessing” (probably loosely translated). Beatitudes were a sort of literary form in Judaism–proclamation of what behavior drew blessings. Another example is in Psalm 1: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked”, etc.
Great blessings belong to those who know they are spiritually in need. God’s kingdom belongs to them. Great blessings belong to those who are sad now. God will comfort them. Great blessings belong to those who are humble. They will be given the land God promised. Great blessings belong to those who want to do right more than anything else. God will fully satisfy them. Great blessings belong to those who show mercy to others. Mercy will be given to them. Great blessings belong to those whose thoughts are pure. They will be with God. Great blessings belong to those who work to bring peace. God will call them his sons and daughters. Great blessings belong to those who suffer persecution for doing what is right. God’s kingdom belongs to them. Great blessings belong to those who work to bring peace. God will call them his sons and daughters. Great blessings belong to those who suffer persecution for doing what is right. God’s kingdom belongs to them.
I think it’s worthwhile to meditate on each of these in turn for some time. So many of us who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord fail to work to bring peace or be humble. So many of us want many other things besides doing right. So many of us do not strive to show mercy or to make sure our nation as a whole is merciful rather than vengeful. I like to read these in this version for a little way of seeing them in a new light. God will bless us if our hearts are right–maybe because right hearts can make the world a better place.