26 September 2010

Luke 16:19-31

"He 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.'" (v.31)


Is this perhaps the most unsettling of all Jesus' stories for any reader who could give more to those in need?

A rich man feasts sumptuously every day and ignores the plight of the starving Lazarus at his gate. When they both die the rich man, burning in hell, begs the Old Testament figure Abraham to send Lazarus to give him water. When Abraham refuses, the rich man asks for his brothers to be warned about what is in store for them. Abraham again refuses, saying that Moses and the prophets have already made their responsibility clear.

Most of us will not have people starving at our front gates, but we may encounter beggars on the street, and no one can be unaware that many people in the developing world die each day for lack of clean water, adequate food and medicine. On a national and a global scale, this parable of Jesus is still going on, with most Christians in the developed world cast in the role of the rich man. The title of Ron Sider's 1977 book captures something of the scandal: 'Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger'.

Jesus makes it very plain that excuses are not enough for those who ignore the cries of the poor. The passage links to the strange parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) where the message is still stronger: those who refuse to help the hungry and thirsty refuse help to Jesus himself. Disciples of Jesus Christ cannot escape their responsibility to care for the needs of the poor.

What then are we to do? Traditionally, Christians have tithed their wealth - given away a tenth of their income - though the practice seems to have fallen into decline. Some have suggested that even tithing is insufficient for the wealthy. The example of the billionaire Warren Buffett is striking, who has committed to give away 85% of his huge fortune to charity.

To Ponder

Why do you think Jesus told this parable?

What do you think it means for Christians today?

How will you respond?

Bible notes author

David Clough

David Clough is Professor of Theological Ethics in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Chester. He is a Methodist local preacher, a member of the Joint Advisory Committee on the Ethics of Investment and the Faith and Order Network and drafted recent reports on peacemaking and climate change on behalf of the Methodist Church.