Poverty does not predispose us to moral depravity.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.”
God gives to us that which we are able to use. When we are provided more that we can handle, we either tend to abuse it or lose it. Many dream of having great wealth, but most would not be able to manage it well – we simply do not have the skills. This comes through two things – training and faithfulness.
In this scripture, we see a juxtaposition between one who is rich, and one who is poor. The rich man is dressed in purple (purple dye at that time was VERY expensive to make and use – only the very richest people could afford it) and lived in luxury. The rich man lacked nothing material in his life on Earth. He was well off, and would have been able to address any Earthly need or desire that he had. Most of us, without the wisdom and instruction in the Lord provided by God’s word, would be envious of this man and the apparent ease in which he lived.
Sick with Sores
Jesus then describes a man living in a starkly different lifestyle. Lazarus – the only person in any of Jesus’ parables to actually be named by name – was a beggar at the gates of the rich man’s home. Rather than living in a life of splendor and ease, he was destitute and dependent upon the charity of those who were able to provide him with their overflow of provision by God through empathy.
In stark contrast to the rich man, dressed in purple, the poor man was sporting sores. And to add insult to injury, the poor man’s sores were licked by unclean animals – the dogs. Having no money, no food, and poor health, this man waited patiently for assistance, and would have been willing to eat even the scraps of food thrown out from the rich man’s table.
Jesus indicated in this parable that when both died, angels bore the poor man’s spirit to Abraham’s bosom. Many scholars believe that this is the location where the souls of the righteous were kept until the time when Jesus was resurrected, and they could be fully in the presence of the Father. We see, however, that at least two of those who were declared righteous because they believed God were in the presence of Jesus before the resurrection.
The poor man received his reward – he was in the presence of Jesus after death. This is very important since it shows that the physical conditions that the poor man found himself in during life – physical and financial poverty – did not equate to spiritual poverty. Even in his horrific state of life, the poor man – Lazarus – believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Rather than receive his reward on Earth, he received it in Heaven.
The rich man, however, received his reward on Earth. Jesus says that Lazarus was at his gate, and longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. This indicates that the rich man would have had to pass Lazarus every time he left his home and every time he came back home. He had shown no pity to Lazarus; otherwise, Lazarus would have been eating the scraps from his table.
The rich man, after he had died, then received his spiritual reward as well. He was thrown into Hades, where he was tormented by fire (the same torment that those who are thrown into the lake of fire receive). His lack of compassion for the poor, and his self-serving use of what God had provided to him was evidence that He did not believe God. For if the rich man believed God, he would have obeyed what God had told him to obey – love your neighbor as yourself. Lazarus was his neighbor, as Jesus pointed out through the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Taking care of the poor is not the job of the government. It is the job of everyone whom God has blessed. However, there are many wicked people who cry out that they are in poverty, and try to exploit the compassion and generosity of those who would help people in need. And often, those who are generous become known among the community of the poor. And the generosity of feeding one beggar might turn into the undesirable state of being mobbed by a multitude of beggars.
And while discernment should be used when engaging in acts of charity, those whom God has blessed should give what they need, not what they ask for, to help them out, and leave the results up to God. Does a person say work for food? Give them food, not money. Most people who say they will work for food will balk if you offer them food in return for their labor. In that, their cry for help is deceitful.
The physical and financial state of a person does not necessarily indicate the person’s spiritual position. Even James warned us about showing favoritism to the rich over the poor in the church. Besides, God has chosen people who are financially poor to be rich in faith. God, because He is sovereign, wants all who are His people to be well provided. And when they are not, we should help them out as we are able to do so, regardless of who they are:
but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.'”
“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.”
Note that the poor are to be given the opportunity to work for their food. Back when the Bible was being written, it would have been the opportunity to gather the gleanings from the field. In today’s tight profit margins of businesses, what can be done so that the poor can do work and thereby use their hands for the benefit of others rather than just putting out their palms for charity? When we give money and food away, it detracts from the dignity that all human beings find in work. Work is a gift from God to feel useful as well as to provide for a person and their family (if any).
Finally, remember that the condition of poverty does not necessarily predispose a person to moral failure. Moral failure is a choice that each and every one of us makes, regardless of our financial position or the pressures that are placed upon us. It is up to each and every one of us to do what is right in the eyes of God, as we will be required to give an account of all that we have done, good and evil, while we were alive on Earth.
A Qualifying Question
Let’s ask a question: If financially possible, am I looking after the needs of the poor around me?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, You have said that the poor will always be among us, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Father, show me how I can love the poor around me, as they are my neighbors as well. Give me a heart for those who are poor, and to see the poor through Your eyes. Help me to set aside time, talent, or treasure that it may be used to help the poor as You provide all things to me. This I ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.