This week, the plight of the poor is in my thoughts. Besides practicing humility (see last week’s MTT) it seems to me that helping the poor is a major biblical theme and something we should be doing especially during Lent. With this in mind, consider the parable of Lazarus (see Luke 16: 19-31). A rich man, who since medieval times has been given the name Dives (Latin for “rich”), is lazy and indulges in food to an extreme (“feasts sumptuously every day”). One can picture him as an extremely overweight bloke sitting at his table consuming, with no manners, every unhealthy food (by today’s standards) under the sun within his reach. Then there is Lazarus, a poor man, “full of sores, who desires to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” He was so indigent that dogs came and licked his sores. Quickly after this stage is set, the story moves to what happens after Lazarus dies and is “carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom” (i.e., heaven). Dives also dies and moves on to Hades (hell). Dives can see Lazarus in heaven, however, and he is remorseful. He asked Abraham to have mercy and to send Lazarus to him with a drop of water so that he may have even the smallest amount of relief. Abraham responds saying that that is impossible because of the great chasm between heaven and hell – no one may cross from either side to the other.
And then something of great significance …. Dives wants Abraham to send Lazarus to earth to warn his family members so that they don’t suffer the same fate as him. Abraham’s response? “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” So Abraham’s answer is “no.” The obvious message is that once you die and find yourself in hell, it is too late to repent or to warn others back on earth to repent. Once you die and find yourself in hell, you can no longer do anything to help the poor. Once you die and find yourself in hell, it is too late to deliver a message to the poor. Once you die and find yourself in hell, you can no longer do good works to help your fellow man. Once you die and find yourself in hell, it is not possible for someone in heaven to help you.
Jesus further addresses this elsewhere in Scripture (Matthew 19:24) saying that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter heaven. He says that it is like trying to pass a camel through the eye of a needle. But then he also said in the same breath: “Nothing is impossible with God.” It seems to me that the message is this: We must give generously to help the poor and pray to God for those who refuse to do that so that they may get this message before they die.
Here is a photo of camel. I don't know what a needle looked like back in the first century, but I don't think this camel would have been able to pass through the eye. If the camel is a rich man and the passing through the eye of a needle is his entry into heaven, what do you think? Impossible? Let us, you and me, try praying! Nothing is impossible for God.