Jesus said: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores” (Luke 16:19-21).
That’s a pretty horrible situation regardless of which side of the fence you’re on. On the one hand, you have a rich man, undoubtedly powerful in his community. Influential. Probably popular. But Jesus doesn’t speak his name, because it’s not written in the Book of Life.
And, on the other hand, you have Lazarus. Poor and pathetic. Wounded in all ways. His sores attract and feed the dogs, but he is not comforted.
But Jesus gives his name—Lazarus—it’s written in the Book of Life. His faith was not in things and stuff, happiness, or even his family but in God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Jesus withholds the rich man’s name because he was a slave to sin. He cared only for himself, his wealth, his appearance. And though he feasted sumptuously every day, his body and soul starve eternally.
Hell is a real place, with real torment, and God is just and right to send stubborn, unrepentant sinners there.
When you hear Jesus speak of the rich man and Lazarus, you should hear it as a warning. Already, in Luke’s account of the gospel, Jesus has said, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:5).
Clearly, Lazarus knew his catechism—to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
Not so much, the rich man.
In this comparison, it’s easy to see who has it better and who has it worse.
Who we want to be and who we don’t want to be.
Jesus warning should also be heard in this—that when you hear the whole story, you never want to be the rich man, and you always want to be Lazarus.
But when you don’t know the whole story, you never want to be Lazarus, and, of course, you desire to feast sumptuously every day.
But it’s the poor man who fears God that’s carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.
And it’s the rich man who fears the loss of his cash that’s tormented in hell with the vision of Abraham and Lazarus in Paradise.
“He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end 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 received…good…and Lazarus in like manner bad…but now he is comforted…and you are in anguish’” (Luke 16:24-25).
On the one hand Lazarus.
On the other hand the rich man.
It’s obvious who you should want to be.
We all say “Lazarus,” right?
We want to be Lazarus.
We want to be “helped by God,” that’s what Lazarus means.
But perhaps we should be one of the dogs.
Lazarus was left alone. Wounded. Forsaken. Stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was left to die while the rich man feasted sumptuously every day.
But the dogs survive.
They can always find a meal because they know where to look.
A dog looks at useless trash and finds a feast.
Believe it or not, so it is with Christians.
The world calls our communion foolishness, trash.
In the history of the world, bread and wine are food basics. There’s nothing special about them.
But only with bread and wine does Jesus say, “Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood. Given and shed for you the forgiveness of sins.”
It doesn’t look like anything’s going on. It doesn’t taste any different, before and after.
But we know where to look.
We believe what Jesus says.
So I’d rather be one of the dogs, feasting from the wounds of Christ.
He was ”despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows…acquainted with grief…As one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not…He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted…He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3-5).
We know where to look for peace.
I’d rather be a dog that licks the sores of Jesus Christ because I’m not as patient or as faithful as Lazarus.
The example of faith in today’s Gospel is, of course, Lazarus. He trusted God and was helped by God.
He was brought into everlasting life.
But sometimes the Christian’s life is more accurately portrayed by a barking, yapping, dog who just wants something to eat.
Sometimes, a dog will go to his own vomit. They need to be told and taught where to eat and how.
A dog will gladly learn this and, once trained in the way he should go, will not depart from it when he’s older.
In this way, even the dogs are an example of faith.
They receive their sustenance from the one who is perfectly faithful.
The example of unbelief, then, is the rich man.
He doesn’t just possess things.
He’s possessed by them.
Knowing his fate, the rich man says, “I beg you…[Abraham]…send [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28).
Did you notice the priorities of the rich man?
First—his concern was of his own anguish and thirst.
Only when what he wants is forbidden him does he look beyond himself.
Then—he’s concerned about his brothers.
But—even then—doesn’t want to go himself.
Even in hell, there’s no repentance.
No desire for the Law to be preached.
Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let [your brothers] hear them.” And he said, “No, father…but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” [Abraham] said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29-31).
This is great and obvious foreshadowing.
The sign for our generation is that of the prophet Jonah.
“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Luke 11:32).
If you don’t believe the Law, that you’re a sinner, that you’ve dishonored your mother and father, killed your neighbor, lied, and stolen, if you don’t confess your sins, the Good News of the resurrection means nothing to you.
The chasm that separates Lazarus from the rich man, heaven from hell, is repentance.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
So, with all that in mind, I’d rather be a dog.
What happens when you scold a dog, yell at it, or from across the room throw the only shoe he hasn’t eaten?
Tail between the legs, they want only the voice of their Master to tell them that all is well.
There’s more rejoicing in heaven over one dog who repents than over ninety-nine rich men who think they need no repentance (cf. Lk. 15:7).
Dogs know how to repent.
I’d rather be a dog, licking the sores of Jesus Christ, because “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Dogs know where to find a meal—even when it looks like trash or the wounds of a man stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 1 Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt