The Examined Life.
Luke 16: 19 – 31.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus illustrated the Saviour’s earlier pronouncement on ‘those who justified themselves in the sight of men, but God knows their hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God’ (Luke 16:15). The inimitable contrast between the two cannot be more stark: in terms of resources and the privileges in life, viz., clothing, ownership of property, and provisions of food; the freedom of choices and movement, the security and dignity of a good life, possessing authority and honour; a nobody juxtaposed with the distinguished. To have spent an entire life immersed in the accumulation of wealth and garnering the approval of others in total denial of one’s eternal destiny is in the eyes of God, a total folly (c.f., Eccl 3:11-15). It is clear that the distinction here is not that affluence and popularity are frowned at in themselves, but when these self-indulgent acquisitions are an end in themselves, in total abnegation of any normal human compassion for the poor and needy, as this parable highlighted, then one’s heart becomes hardened in reflecting the concerns of our Creator God to our world. The enduring outcome of such a perilous lifestyle was the loss of the rich man’s future eternal relationship with his Maker.
It is significant that Lazarus was not a ‘single occasion’ indigent at the rich man’s doorstep. Conjecturing, he either simply possessed no further reserve energy to move on at this point in time, or felt that this may be his last ‘abode.’ Undeniably, there was no attractive incentive for him to remain just for the crumbs off the rich man’s table, in competition with the dogs. Undoubtedly, these dogs were not unfamiliar with Lazarus’ presence, sufficiently for them to lick his sores, as he waited to pick morsels of food. Incidentally, strays are usually not accustomed to fraternising with strangers. Although we were not told how long he was at this particular house, Lazarus was the rich man’s conscience day-in-and-day-out, reminding him of his responsibility towards the underprivileged in Jewish culture! But when a conscience had been seared, a heart of flesh became stone, and he forgets how to feel, inadvertently turning a blind eye towards suffering and injustices in broad daylight!
While in Hades, the rich man belatedly perceived the error of his ways and requested that Yahweh send Lazarus back to warn his five brothers of a similar impending judgment. The salient point was the presumptuous attitude that Lazarus’ ghostly appearance might alter the damning trajectory of his self-centred brothers. And here, Jesus addressed us all: if they would not listen and obey the Word of God, no apparition from beyond the grave will ever persuade them. Scripture is replete with advice to be hospitable to social outcasts and the poor (Prov 14:31; Amos 5:12-15; Matt 6:3-4; Luke 4:18-19), and the Lord in this parable emphasised the importance of such axiomatic responsibility. An underlying vignette of the parable informs us that as humans, our earthly desires and gratifications will unconsciously have a formidable stranglehold over us, and its unforeseen influence grows as long as we appear entitled to or seduced by its rewards. Loosing sight of our responsibility as stewards of our possession likens us to Lazarus’ acquaintance, where life moves on, devoid of the claims of Christ on us, as lights set on a hill and as the salt of the earth. And when we are independently accountable to God for the choices we make, Socrates’ pithy truism that ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’ becomes obviously challenging, lest we become victims of our own choices.