When read in its fullness, the gospel of Luke makes three things quite clear: Jesus’ ministry focuses deeply on the marginalized, Jesus spends a lot of time talking about and practicing table fellowship, and Jesus spends a lot of time talking about wealth – money and possessions. The story of the rich man and Lazarus brings these three themes together in one story. We have Lazarus, a man who is poor, hungry, and homeless on the margins of society. And we have the unnamed “rich man,” who it would seem is used to lavish banquets (table fellowship), or at the very least an abundance of food.
As the set-up to this story, Jesus, in conversation with the religious leaders, says this in verse 13: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” It is in this context (which gives us, generally, our best clues to interpretation) that Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man.
There are details in this story that, in many ways, because we do not live in Jesus’ time and place, leave us scratching our heads and can divert us from the main point. And it is true that often even those in the original context miss the point! But I think the point of this one is clear: the choices we make, the ways we choose to use our wealth, the ways we choose to use our table, and those whom we choose to share it with, matter. And Jesus seems to be saying in this creative allegory (“They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them”), “you should know better! You should know who I am! You should know my ways!”
Do we? Do we act like Jesus followers? I see a lot of Christians focused on a lot of things (self-included), and I can say with certainty that money/power/possessions are not at the top of most Christian’s priority list when it comes to moral outrage, repentance, and advocacy. Why is this? Have we deceived ourselves? Have we put last things first and first things last?
May we be people who ask these hard questions. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us.