Saint Paul writes in Galatians chapter two: When James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Christians excel at remembering the poor. Consider all the charitable organizations Christians have started. The first thing that might come to mind are hospitals. Christian hospitals remember the poor in providing health care without worrying about profit. Even our congregation remembers the poor with “Focus Out”, providing a ten dollar Berkot’s card for those seeking charity from us.
Our walk as Christians, however, doesn’t always match our talk. We like nice things. Our affluence sometimes harms our witness. We wish to help the poor, yet only from the comfort of our air-conditioned car with the window cracked about one inch to slip currency or coins through to the one in need. Even I don’t practice what I preach. If I helped every person I see in need, I couldn’t feed my family. We are jaded. We’ve seen too many professional beggars by the side of the road hustling cash, then walking a ways to their car to drive to another intersection.
There is another way to remember the poor besides giving them money or something tangible. Consider poor Lazarus and the rich man. Every day they saw each other at the rich man’s gate. The rich man was in a position to help Lazarus. Lazarus, though, was in a better position to help the rich man. The message Lazarus preaches in a sermon without a word is brought home by the stunning outcome of their deaths.
The first hint that Jesus has upset the apple cart is the rich man…in Hades, being in torment. It’s as if Jesus has led us down the garden path by telling us Lazarus is resting in Abraham’s bosom, then, out of the side of his mouth, mumbles something about the rich man in Hades. That’s not where we expect both men to be, especially if you’re a Jew and you’re listening to this parable. Even today we fall into the trap of thinking the poor go to hell and the rich go to heaven. Jesus loves a good success story and must turn away those who didn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and did something about their situation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The same goes for reversing the situation. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean an automatic trip to Abraham’s bosom, while those greedy rich people fry in the burning lake of fire. There is something else to this parable; something rich that can’t be kept in a bank or dressed in purple linen.
Lazarus is really the rich man. The rich man is really poor. That’s where Jesus upsets the apple cart. What makes both men the opposite of what our eyes see? To answer that question another question is asked: What is counted before God as righteousness? The answer is in today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis chapter fifteen.
God makes a promise to Abraham about an heir to Abraham’s family. Abraham was afraid that, because he was childless, no one would carry on the promise of the Seed of the woman Who comes to stomp the head of the serpent. Not only will Abraham’s very own son be his heir, God the Father promises more. He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Not only will Abraham have an heir, he also will be rich in offspring. By faith we are children of Abraham, too. Why?
Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. That’s what matters in our heavenly Father’s eyes. Believe what He says about His promises, especially the promise of the Savior, Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, and He reckons it as righteousness. You can’t put a wad of cash before God’s face and ask if that’s enough. You can’t pile up all your good works, even your good intentions to do good works, and ask God if that’s your righteousness. Outside of God’s promise to you, your righteousness is, as Isaiah says, filthy rags. Cling to His promise and you have everything necessary for salvation.
Even clinging to His promise is not your own doing. Saint Paul writes in Ephesians chapter two: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. The riches you have because of Jesus Christ, the Great and Precious Promise of our heavenly Father, are everything. Forgiveness is yours. Life is yours. Salvation is yours. You are an heir of eternity by God’s grace through believing in Jesus Christ.
When you fail at being His workmanship, when you fail in helping the poor, you are forgiven for Christ’s sake. We walk in our good works each day, doing what is given us to do in our callings in life as God gives us light. Sure there’s more to be done. Sure there’s much you’ve left undone. Christ’s blood and righteousness covers every failing. The rich man sees that from Lazarus, but it is now too late. Lazarus lay at his gate every day as a testimony of where true riches are found: Jesus Christ. The rich man couldn’t see that testimony until he needed that cool drink from Lazarus. Too late. What about his father’s house? They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. What if they don’t repent? Not even Jesus rising from the dead will convince them.
Trust not in rich men to clout for you before God’s face. Your riches are in Christ Jesus. His Word with water washes away sin and brings you sonship with God. His Word with bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. His Word of reconciliation brings peace and joy with God and with your neighbor. Where you fail to be Christ’s workmanship, Christ’s blood bespeaks you righteous. The Lord is your riches. He alone has dealt bountifully with you.