Monday, 2 March 2015

Rich man and Lazarus in the 21st Century

I love the overtly descriptive way the Amplified Bible tells the descriptions in the story of Dives and Lazarus.
"There was a certain rich man who [habitually] clothed himself in purple and fine linen and reveled and feasted and made merry in splendor every day. And at his gate there was [carelessly] dropped down and left a certain utterly destitute man named Lazarus, [reduced to begging alms and] covered with [ulcerated] sores. He [eagerly] desired to be satisfied with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover, the dogs even came and licked his sores." (Luke 16 19-21 AMP)
There's no doubt about the Worldly social standing of these people. The rich man, Dives in some translations, has it all. Cars, houses, clothes, money. Lazarus has nothing. We don't know where he came from to be reduced to such a level, but the analogy applies today.

My Grandfather was a preacher, an officer in the Salvation Army during World War Two. He used to lament with me about the people who had material possessions who refused to help those who had lost everything because they didn't "owe" it to them to help. That was England in the 1940's.

Here in South Africa in the years since the fall of Apartheid, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. The rich elite are no longer the white minority, but the veterans of the Struggle who feel they are "owed" or that they "worked for" what they now have. Cars. Houses. Clothes. Money.

There is still minority rule in the "free" South Africa. It's just now it's a minority with more melanin in their skin than before.

This isn't a political rant, it's a social one. I write about the disparages in South Africa because I live here and see it every day. People drive their cars costing R500k ($50k +/- US) or more past beggars on the street who will probably never have that much over their lifetime, never mind to buy a car, who just want to not go to bed hungry, or just need R5 (50c) to spend the night in a shelter with a bed instead of on the street.

It's not limited to any social starting place. Victims of poverty in South Africa and the world in general start anywhere. Then something happens. In South Africa it's often HIV/AIDS or TB or any one of dozens of preventable diseases that can lower people from places they'd worked their whole lives to reach to destitution, losing homes and all the material things including jobs that had kept them able to cope. Now they are the poor, but the rich still don't see them.

There's a moral blindness, and in this "tolerant" society, the loss of a recognition of Hell as a real place. As a result, an "everyone goes to heaven" mentality has developed. It's marked here, but I saw it in England before I moved out here, and I read about it all over the world. There's Facebook groups declaring themselves to be "Progressive" Christians who teach it. Alarmingly, many of the people who spout this non-biblical nonsense are ministers and even bishops in the various denominations. There's a sense of telling the masses to keep quiet because they'll be rewarded in heaven - and the masses buy into it - and the richest that it's ok to worship their wealth and hoard it up for themselves.

I heard a brilliant teacher say many years ago now "I've never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul". It makes sense to me. I've lived at both ends of the spectrum. Illness several years ago prevented me from working for over two years and before I was 30 I was told by doctors I'd never work again. Government handouts are not huge sums of money, and I had to try to cope. Since then, I ignored the doctors. I trusted God, and He brought me out to a place where I was able to study, get a degree and start my own business. So much for man's facts.
"And it occurred that the man [reduced to] begging died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades (the realm of the dead), being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom." (Luke 16:22-23 AMP)
There's a warning coming in Jesus's story. He speaks of Hell and Hades as real places, not metaphor. It is clear from the many references in both the Old and New Testament that Hell is a very real place. Something liberal theology tries to make us dismiss.
 "And he cried out and said, Father Abraham, have pity and mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Child, remember that you in your lifetime fully received [what is due you in] comforts and delights, and Lazarus in like manner the discomforts and distresses; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who want to pass from this [place] to you may not be able, and no one may pass from there to us." (Luke 16:24-26 AMP)
The beginning of the warning. Jesus is making the point that he'd had his reward in this life, not because it is either in this life or eternity, but because having that kind of power that great wealth gives you in the world also gives you a responsibility to help others with it. I've met multi-millionaires who live on 10% of their income and give away the other 90% to build shelters, churches, sponsor missions, provide the helpless and downtrodden with their needs on a day to day basis, and after they give away that kind of money they are still millionaires. One in particular whom I met at a conference told me he believed it was his Christian duty to live how he did, and as he began to give, God blessed him back financially faster than he could give it away, so he increased his gifting percentage. His business boomed, so he gave away the profits - and it boomed faster. There was a correlation between the two. Money isn't a bad thing. I've been well off, and I've been broke (well-off's better). The difference only comes with how you use what you have.
"And [the man] said, Then, father, I beseech you to send him to my father’s house — For I have five brothers — so that he may give [solemn] testimony and warn them, lest they too come into this place of torment. But Abraham said, They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear and listen to them. But he answered, No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent (change their minds for the better and heartily amend their ways, with abhorrence of their past sins). He said to him, If they do not hear and listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded and convinced and believe [even] if someone should rise from the dead." (Luke 16:27-31 AMP)
Another of my Grandfather's quips was "There's none so blind as them what refuses to use their eyes".

He was right.

Using South Africa as an example, a now wealthy family who spent time in exile during Apartheid, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Mandela but missed his point completely, can say to a family member struck down with an illness that is a death sentence "we owe you nothing because we worked for what we have" while another member who stayed and resisted in the country can say to the same family member "we owe you nothing because we give this out of love for you. God has blessed us, please let us bless you now".

The difference? The first worships mammon. The second follows Christ.

Hell is real. I'm not a "turn or burn" preacher. I'm not saying "Give or go to Hell". But there's a warning in Luke 16 here telling us if money is our god and we choose to worship it, God Himself will not deny us that choice.

In the meantime, I daresay in a few years we'll see South African hearses fitted with a tow-hitch for the U-Haul...

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