“Before It’s Too Late”
I want to start with something funny. A man died and arrived at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter asked him, “What have you done to merit entrance into heaven?” The man thought for a moment and said, “A week ago, I gave a quarter to a homeless person on the street.” St. Peter asked the angel Gabriel to check this out in the records, and after a moment, Gabriel affirmed that this was true. St. Peter said, “Well, that’s fine, but it’s not really quite enough to get you into heaven.” The man said, “Wait, wait! There’s more! Three years ago, I also gave a homeless person a quarter.” St. Peter nodded to Gabriel, who after a moment nodded back, affirming this, too, has been verified. St. Peter whispered to Gabriel, “Well, what do you suggest we do with this fellow?” Gabriel gave the man a sidelong glance, then said to St. Peter, “Let’s give him back his 50 cents and tell him to go to hell.”
We continue to see the Gospel of Luke according to the lectionary. You may notice that the Gospel of Luke has more stories about the poor, the sick, and women than other Gospel Books. I want to point out who the author Luke was. The author of the Gospel of Luke was a medical doctor, and more notably, the primary doctor of the Apostle Paul (Colossians 4:14). He was with Paul for the second and third mission trips and also with Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome. Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts. He was not the Apostle or one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, but he learned, saw, and experienced how the disciples of Jesus should live, along with Paul. Because he was a physician, he had mercy on the sick, the poor, and the powerless, who couldn’t get treatment easily. We are following Jesus’ teachings through Luke’s view.
Today’s scripture is one of the parable stories Jesus told to the Pharisees and scribes. He told many people that they should love God more than others if they wanted to be his disciples. After hearing about the cost of being a disciple, the tax collectors and “sinners” gathered around to hear him. But, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law grumbled and complained to Jesus. So, Jesus began to tell them the parable stories like the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, and the dishonest manager (steward) we talked about last Sunday. However, the Pharisees still couldn’t understand that Jesus was talking to them. Rather, they were sneering at Jesus because they loved money (Luke 16:14). Finally, Jesus told them the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, warning them to be aware before it’s too late.
Today, I want to talk about “before it’s too late.” Before it’s too late, we should try to understand what Jesus wanted us to know through the parable story, “the rich man and Lazarus.” This is a summary of the story: There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. In contrast, at his gate, a man named Lazarus laid who was poor and sick, longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. They both died. The rich man went to hell, and Lazarus went to heaven. Unlike in their earthly lives, the rich man begged for help, and Lazarus was surrounded by comfort. As Lazarus was longing to eat the crumbled food from the rich man’s table while alive in the world, the rich man begged for a drop of water through Lazarus’ finger. However, he realized that it was not possible and too late to repent. He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house: before it got too late, he wanted his brothers to know about the reality of hell. However, Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; They should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Abraham said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Do you wonder why the rich man went to hell, and Lazarus went to heaven? We can study this story through the consistency of Israelite culture and Jesus’ teachings. The audience of this story must be the Pharisees and teachers of the Law because Jesus’ storytelling began with the grumbling Pharisees. One more clue was that they dressed up in Purple. In the Israelite Society, only Religious Leaders could wear purple robes, and they were very rich. They taught people about God’s love but didn’t practice loving their neighbors in their everyday lives. It is about how to manage everything God has given us. In other words, it is an example of a dishonest manager. The rich man must be a believer in God. You may say, “Just a minute! Did the believer in God go to hell?” Listen carefully! Jesus told this story to religious leaders like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, and today it is for us.
Think about Jesus’ other lesson about the final judgment, Matthew 25:31-46. At the final judgment, the son of man separates all the nations, like the goats and sheep. The sheep means those who give food to the hungry, give water to the thirsty and invite a stranger in to their home, and the goat means those who don’t provide food, water, and care to those in need. Jesus added, ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters, you did for me. Whatever you didn’t do for one of the least, you didn’t do for me.’
I know you are confused about salvation; we learned that we are saved only by faith in Jesus by the grace of God. And now, we learned we are judged at the end of our lives as to if we did good work or not. Let me tell you the other example Jesus taught us in Luke 18:18-30. A rich ruler came to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “you know the commandments: you shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall bear false witness; honor your father and mother.” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard that and said, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; then come, follow me.” Hearing him, the rich ruler went back with sadness. And Jesus said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
As we name an apple tree, even though the tree hasn’t produced apples yet, we are Christians whether we bear fruit or not. However, if the apple tree grows well with good nutrition, it should bear fruit. In the same manor, if we grow in faith according to God’s Word, we should bear good fruit. Attending Sunday services and church programs, reading the scripture, and praying every day are all means of grace in which we can live with God. Sharing gifts and talents with others is the adult Christians’ virtue as it was when the good steward managed his master’s possessions. Loving God and loving our neighbor is all part of having a God-Centered mind, in which God is the owner of our lives. However, the rich man in Jesus’ lesson was a person who had a money-centered mind. He loved money more than God. We have been entrusted by God to manage all our possessions, including money, for God’s ministry. Through the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus tells us, before it’s too late, to repent and share all we have with our neighbors in need for God, because it is the way of Jesus’ disciples. Remember, we are Christians who follow Jesus’ teachings. Before it’s too late, repent, and come back to God with your whole heart, mind and soul. Before it’s too late, let your loved ones know how much you love them through your actions not just your words. Thanks be to God. Amen!