Be a Blessing Luke 16:19-31
Last Sunday’s sermon was based on a story from chapter 16 of The Gospel of Luke, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In the story, both men start out and end up in very different places.
Lazarus is a man who is sick. He is lying near the door to the Rich Man’s house, smelling good food and hearing the frivolity of the dinner parties the Rich Man holds every night, hoping someone will throw him some scraps. No food or assistance is given to Lazarus.
Both men die, and Lazarus goes to the comfort of heaven. The Rich Man is burning in hell, begging God for a bottle of Fiji water. Verse 25 says he gets no relief, which is his consequence—now get this— his consequence for the blessings he received while he was alive.
Well that’s a little scary: because if this man burned in hell because he was blessed with a measure of prosperity and comfort during his lifetime, I imagine that I, and most of you, someday will end up a crispy-critter, like the Rich Man.
Jesus’ message is deeper than it appears. Receiving “good things” during one’s time on earth does not automatically condemn us. (Conversely, I believe that being poor or suffering during one’s lifetime is not an automatic ticket to heaven; but that’s another discussion.)
In this parable, Jesus tells the Pharisees and Scribes—the rich and powerful—that they will suffer in the afterlife because they knew and ignored the law and the commandments. The greatest commandments paraphrased: Love God and LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. “THERE IS NO LAW WHICH IS GREATER THAN THESE.”
The message to the Rich Man, and all of us, is God blesses us so that we may bless to others.
But the best part of the worship service was the congregational reflection and discussion that occurred after the sermon. One person said they are often torn about giving money to people begging on the streets of Washington, DC: they are concerned that they will be feeding a drug or alcohol addiction. Another said they are offended when accosted by people who measure their means based on what they wear and, accordingly, don’t expect $1, but demand $20! “Just like I don’t know their financial circumstance, they don’t know mine either,” she said. “They have no right to judge and demand money from me because of how I dress.”
A young professional man said he has had the same experiences as those who spoke before him and he told us how he resolved his inner conflict. He said on his way to work, he sees the same man, in the same place, with his hand out, every day. When he first began to encounter him his feelings vacillated between guilt and disdain. Then he developed a response that elicits none of these emotions. His daily response is to look the panhandler in the eye, smile, and say good morning as he walks by. And the man looks at him and nods.
“My look intends to convey the message that I do not feel a duty to give you money; however, I won’t just walk by like you don’t exist.”
There was an “ah-hah” moment in the room, when I think everyone understood that acknowledging someone’s humanity can be critical to their survival on the street.
Finally, a woman said she was on her way to work and encountered a young female panhandler. She told her she didn’t have money to give her, but asked if there was something she could do for her. The woman asked her to pray for her. So they prayed. At the end of the prayer, they began to talk. The woman had fled to the streets to escape domestic abuse, she said, and the woman who stopped and prayed with her worked with an agency that helps domestic abuse victims.
Clearly, if she had not acknowledged her existence and stopped to talk with this street person, this connection would not have been made and this woman may have suffered longer and more.
Sometimes, taking the time to really look at and acknowledge people can cause a profound change—in them and in you. God blessed you to be a blessing. Be a blessing.
Rev. Boyd is the multitalented associate minister at Lincoln Temple.