Jesus in the gospels was constantly chastising the Pharisees for their strict adherence to the law. The God they preached about was a God who would bring about all manner of ills on those who disobeyed his laws and commands. They would agree with the action God said he would do because the Israelites worshiped the golden calf. That is a proper action for those who stray from God’s laws. God was to be distant and obeyed not someone you could call Abba. They subscribed to the belief that only the righteous, the priest and Levites, could speak to God. In fact the Israelites in the Exodus said to Moses, “speak to us yourself and we will listen, but do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
This image of God is one that has carried over to many today. That is a God who will punish the sins of anyone who disobeys him. This belief says to us that forgiveness must be earned not freely given to those who disobey him.
Yet we know from the scriptures Jesus came to show us the Father. Time and time again what he showed us was a not a vengeful God as believed and taught by the Pharisees but a loving, forgiving, merciful God. Paul tells us in Ephesians that the law was our disciplinarian until the Spirit came. So here is our choice, follow the law and be righteous like the Pharisees. If we do that we allow the law to be our disciplinarian and guide or follow the Spirit who will write the law on our hearts.
How will we know if we are pleasing to God if we choose to allow the Spirit to guide us to holiness? I urge you to truly reflect on today’s parable if you believe that strict adherence to the law is the best path to follow. Jesus speaking to the Pharisees says something remarkable just before he tells the parable of the rich man. Jesus said, “…“the prophets and the law lasted until John, now the kingdom of God is proclaimed”(Lk. 16:16).
Those words tell us what we should be following because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we live in the kingdom of God. These words preceded the parable of the rich man and they are a key in understanding what God is requiring of us. Jesus is not telling us the law is unimportant instead he is telling us how important it is to allow the Spirit to change our hearts as God promised he would change them.
The rich man in this parable did no wrong according to the law – the Pharisees would not have condemned him. So why in the parable was he punished and what do we need to learn about what the law can do for us and what it means to live in the kingdom. I believe what we are to learn is what God has always desired from us – you shall love the Lord God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul. Love of God means that God is first in our lives and all else is secondary. That kind of love will change our approach to so many things we ordinarily would not do.
Two weeks ago as I was leaving church there was a man standing in the breezeway holding a sign. The sign had a brief description of how he lost his job and he needed money to feed his family. I watched as people filed by him, ignoring him and his plight. Some people chastised him for begging and told him to get a job. I stopped and gave him more money than I had put in the offering basket that day. Perhaps Jesus knew this parable was coning this week and he sent Lazarus to stand by the doors to the church.
Have we no compassion for the plight of others or has our hearts been so hardened by the world we have no concern for others. The scriptures today present us an identical story of those whom we ignore while we attempt to be righteous before God. There are panhandlers everywhere and their names are Lazarus. Each time we pass them by we are the rich man.
But this gospel story is not a story about giving away our wealth it is a story about the condition of our hearts. We desire so much to please God and what pleases God is our willingness to follow him and live in the kingdom of God Jesus came to establish on the earth.
If we believe in the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ then we must know we are called to allow the Spirit of God to mold us into disciples. Disciples who will do the very things Jesus did in order to show the love of God to others.