“What is esteemed among humanity, is detestable in the sight of god.” In our parable from last week we heard Jesus tell his apprentices to be shrewd and intelligent by using unjust money to make friends. The Pharisees, to whom Jesus had told the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost sons, were there overhearing this parable about a manager who got fired and then forgave the debts of his boss’ clients in order to have a place to stay. Our text for today begins with these same Pharisees ridiculing Jesus for this parable because they “loved silver and possessions.”
Jesus responded to their ridicule, “You are those who are showing themselves to live-justly in the sight of humanity, but god knows your hearts! What is esteemed among humanity, is detestable in the sight of god!” These leaders and authorities esteemed money, possessions, power, and status. They tried to put on a front of living lives of justice, but Jesus shattered their whole world by stating definitively that the things that are esteemed by human beings in our world are “detestable in the sight of god.” We esteem and value power and status—god finds it detestable. We esteem and value competition and self-sufficiency—god finds it detestable. We esteem and value money and wealth—god finds it detestable.
Jesus then went on to give them a history lesson to support his assertions and teachings, “The Torah and the prophets were till John. From then on, the gospel of the rule of god is being declared and everyone is being forceful against it.” Jesus tells them that a new era or age broke in with John the Baptist. John bridged these two ages as he was the greatest of all prophets while also pointing to Jesus and the coming of god’s rule to take over the world. But in response to this everyone had turned against god’s rule, as they imprisoned and beheaded John and now as they sought to eliminate and destroy Jesus as well. At this point the Pharisees are probably nodding and thinking, “Yeah, you and John just totally ignore the Torah and law of Moses and are destroying it with all your ‘rule of god’ talk!”
But Jesus continued, “It is easier for heaven and earth to go by than for one point of the Torah to fall.” How can Jesus say that the time of the Torah came to an end with John and yet also say that the Torah is more lasting than heaven and earth? Those opposed to John and Jesus didn’t understand that this rule of god being proclaimed was nothing but the fulfillment of the law of Moses. What John and Jesus had been teaching about love, money, wealth, possessions, power, status, and god’s rule was nothing other than what the Torah and prophets had always been teaching. The Torah lives on, in fact is amplified and brought to its fullness, in and through the rule of god.
Jesus then stuck his finger right in one of the areas where these Pharisees esteemed the things of the world and yet still tried to come off as living rightly before god. Moses in Deuteronomy had given the concession that a man could send away his wife if he found some indecency in her. These leaders jumped on this concession in the Torah and used marriage and divorce as a way to follow the world’s pattern of building wealth, power, and social status. When marrying a particular woman was favorable to moving up the social ladder these leaders would marry her, but as soon as she was detrimental to moving up the ladder and another, better option, came along, they would release her in order to take the new wife. These men treated women as property in their game of thrones and yet all the while they claimed they were living lives of justice. Therefore Jesus said to them, “Whoever releases his woman and marries another, is committing adultery. Whoever marries the one released by a man, is committing adultery.” Jesus wanted them to see that their marriage games were detestable in the eyes of god. Jesus wanted them to see that every time they were swapping wives around in order to gain wealth, power, and status, moving up the ladder in regard to what is esteemed by the world, they were breaking god’s law against adultery. They thought they were the ones playing by god’s laws, but all the while they were the ones breaking his law. They thought what they pursued was esteemed by god and all the while it was detestable to god.
To hammer this point in, Jesus went on to tell a story—a story not meant to give us the details of what life after death is like, but to communicate several important things through a fictional and fantastical scenario. In the story Jesus described two men. One was a wealthy man who was dressed in very expensive clothing and was so wealthy that he didn’t have to work one bit and spent all his days “celebrating luxuriously.” The other was “a dirt-poor man, full of sores” who had been thrown before the rich man’s gate, maybe by the rich man himself as he kicked him off his property or maybe by someone trying to get the rich man’s attention. Either way we are told that this poor man was hoping to eat scraps from the rich man’s table and dirty, filthy, scavenger dogs would come and lick his sores—he was without question an unclean outcast from a Hebrew standpoint. Interestingly Jesus refused to give the rich man the dignity of a name in this story, while at the same time Jesus gave the poor man a very meaningful name, “Lazarus,” meaning “god helps.”
Jesus then tells us that this dirt-poor man, Lazarus, died and was “carried away by messengers to the side of Abraham.” In death he was among god’s people and in the presence of god. The wealthy man also died, but with him we are simply told “he was buried.” Jesus then tells us this buried rich man was full of humiliation—and what is more humiliating to someone who thinks he is something special then being put in the ground to rot and be forgotten? Then looking up from his place of humiliation, buried in the “realm of the dead,” we are told the rich man cried out to Abraham, “Father Abraham, have compassion on me! Send Lazarus so that he will dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue! I am in distress within this flame!” Fire, for the Hebrew people, was a metaphor for god’s judgment. Fire was a picture of how god would burn all the bad out of the world, in order that the world might be refined and cleansed.
So Abraham said to the rich man, “Remember that you received your good things during your life and Lazarus likewise harmful things! But now he is being called while you are in distress.” This rich man had lived his life selfishly, he had built wealth for himself, he had lived in luxury. He had done all this while his neighbors around him were in dire need. He had ignored Lazarus who was in need on his doorstep, day after day. He had loved himself and his family more than his neighbors. This man had refused to be cleansed by the fire of god’s word during his life and so now buried in the ground we are told he was experiencing the fire of god’s judgment—he was being burned out of existence. He had exalted himself in life and now he was being humiliated and brought to the very bottom.
Abraham went on to give him the worst news of all, “Between us and you a great chasm has been made to stand firm so that those wanting to go through to us are not able.” This rich man’s situation was now irreversible, his life couldn’t be undone. He could not repent or transform his life any longer. How he had treated his neighbors was final. How he had ignored poor Lazarus on his doorstep, day after day, was final. He had refused to love his neighbors as much as himself, he had refused to transform, he had refused to let go of his wealth for the sake of loving those around him in need.
Seeing now that his own fate was sealed permanently, the rich man wanted to see if he could intervene to help his family. He said, “Send Lazarus to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, so that he will thoroughly witness to them, lest they also come to this place of humiliation!” The rich man saw that his living brothers still had a chance to transform their lives. They still had a chance to see that their wealth and luxury was evil because through it they were keeping more for themselves and were therefore not loving their neighbors as much as themselves. The rich man wanted his brothers to see the truth of what their way of life was leading to—he wanted them to see the truth of what he felt he never saw for himself.
But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets. They must listen to them!” He told the rich man that his brothers already had enough to repent and transform—the words of Moses and the prophets had been calling them to repent week after week and day after day. The rich man’s brothers knew better. They had heard Moses teach them about loving their neighbors and the Jubilee forgiveness of all debts and the redistribution of all wealth taught in the Torah—they had also heard the prophets repeatedly preach against wealth and the oppression of the poor. They knew what god was calling them to, everything they needed for transformation was right in front of them. They simply needed to listen.
But the rich man persisted, “No father Abraham, if someone from the dead came to them, they would transform!” The rich man himself had heard Moses and the prophets during his lifetime and was apparently unimpressed. How could god expect anyone to listen to these low lifes tell them to get rid of their wealth and take care of the poor? The rich man believed that god needed to give more clear and spectacular signs if he was going to ask so much from people, a sign like a man coming back from the dead to speak to them. Abraham however disagreed, saying, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, then they will not trust one that has stood again from among the dead.” Abraham knew that those unwilling to listen to god’s prophets would always have a good excuse for why they couldn’t obey.
This parable challenges us to see that ours life matters—how you live matters, how you treat your neighbors today matters, what you do with your resources matters. It is of the most urgent importance. Jesus is again trying to snap us out of our slumber, our slumber that is leading us to just passively slide through life, down a path of self-destruction. Will we ignore our neighbors like the rich man in the story? Will we value and esteem the things the world loves, like money, wealth, power, and status? Or will we listen to the prophets of god? Will we listen to their call and transform our lives so that our lives reflect what is esteemed and valuable in god’s eyes? Will we see our neighbors in need on our own doorstep and act today, to love and care for them? “What is esteemed among humanity, is detestable in the sight of god.” Amen.