Category Archives: Lectionary

Blood Moon

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

The twelfth hour was upon him with the sun setting behind the western clouds over the Great Sea.  Josiah, anxious that he not still be beyond the allotted distance for a Shabbat walk, hurried his way home.  The dark clouds to the east cleared away and, as he stepped through a clearing, he saw the top sliver of the rising moon.  It was in full eclipse as it rose, what astrologers called a blood moon.  The vision held him.  He stood engulfed in the revelation.  The blood red reminded him of the words of the prophet Yo’el.

“I will show wonders in the sky and on earth–

blood, fire and columns of smoke.

The sun will be turned into darkness

and the moon into blood

before the coming of the great

and terrible Day of Adonai.”

Joel 2:30-31

Visions of the past two days passed through his mind.  All the blood of the sacrifices at the Temple, the fires and smoke of the Altar, the arrest of the rabbi Yeshua, his execution on the cross, the strange darkness, the quake, and now this.  He actually shivered.  He stood rooted, unthinking, staring at the moon.  He tried to break the spell.  It could not mean the Day was upon them.

He chastised himself for thinking like a peasant!  He was a properly educated businessman.  He knew the Mashiach would overthrow the existing powers and reestablish the Kingdom of David.  Where were the signs for that?  There were none!  This Yeshua was dead.  It was all talk.

He carefully made his way home.

 

 

Exposition

Let’s get the blood moon out of the way first.  Joel is giving us a specific prophecy about the Messiah.  It deals with the time of the coming of the Son of Man to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.

There are dozens, perhaps thousands, of web sites right now talking about the coming blood moons of 2014 and 2015.  The excitement is that there will be a total eclipse of the moon on Passover and Sukkot in both years, so some are saying that this heralds the Second Coming.

There are a number of problems with the 4 eclipse idea.  The technical issues are dealt with quite well in the following post.

http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2013/07/12/lunar-eclipses-cause-blood-moons

To summarize his points: a total eclipse occurs almost every year; few of them are seen as red; most are just dark; clouds often cover them; and a more Biblical point, it should be seen from Jerusalem if it heralds the coming of the Messiah.

I prefer to take the teachings of Jesus to heart on this issue; I will not know the time; it will come like a thief in the night.  In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, Peter began his great sermon by quoting this passage from Joel.  Peter makes it clear that Joel refers to what had happened to the man Jesus and that the sudden ability of the Apostles and disciples to preach boldly was part of Joel’s message.  Remember that Pentecost occurred 50 days after Passover without a blood moon (the moon would have been about 10 days shy of being full).

What is the rest of Joel’s message?  The context is important here.  The land of Judah has experienced a massive plague of grasshoppers that ate everything and Joel reminded the people that they had been unfaithful to God (yet again).  Repent and trust in God.  When the nation does return, Joel goes on, they can expect good rains and good harvests.  Stay right with God and good things will come.

Psalm 65 carries on with that message.  You care for the earth and water it, you enrich it greatly; with the river of God, full of water, you provide them grain and prepare the ground.  The idea of the river of God brings to mind the words of Jesus to the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give him will never be thirsty again!” Later in John we read, Now on the last day of the festival, Hoshana Rabbah, Yeshua stood and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking!  This image of Jesus the Messiah as the living water comes from the Exodus account of God bringing water from the rock for the people, not for a day, but for 40 years.  Jesus is that Rock of our Salvation.

Hoshana Rabbah, the day of judgment, is the seventh and last day of Sukkot, generally called the Feast of Tabernacles.  Occurring in the fall, it culminates a series of important events beginning with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The judgment written on Yom Kippur is not delivered until the end of Hoshana Rabbah.  Therefore, Jesus was inviting everyone to receive the living water before the judgment was issued.  There is powerful symbolism in the timing of Jesus’ words.

For Paul in writing to Timothy, judgment is at hand.  He has finished the race and expects to receive his reward.  He knows the living water.  He has tasted it.  He is ready to be poured out on the altar.  He has made his own sacrifice as did the Lamb of God.  He expects to take his own imitation of Jesus all the way to death.  Jesus lived in him so it is proper that his blood also be poured on the altar, symbolically at least.

Luke gives us a short parable of the Pharisee and tax collector sandwiched between the unjust judge and Jesus calling the children to his side.  At first glance, it seems to have no connection to the other readings for today.  Let’s see.

The stage-set for this little drama is huge.  The Pharisee goes up to the Temple and finds a safe place where the dirty common folk can’t touch him.  The tax collector quietly slips unseen to a solitary spot well away from the other men.  It is important to note that they are both removed from other people.

The priest, chosen by lot, has gone inside the Holy Place to offer incense on the Golden Altar, add oil to the Menorah, and tend the Golden Table of the Bread of the Presence.  That was the signal for the men in attendance to begin offering their prayers to God.  In Jesus day, it was done out loud, by everyone at once.  They could and did pray throughout the day right up to the time in the evening sacrifice when the chosen priest entered the Holy Place again.

In the Parable, we can hear the prayers of both the Pharisee and of the tax collector and Jesus tells us whose prayer is to be answered.  But we should notice some other important details.

The Pharisee was preaching to his neighbors, but the tax collector was talking to God.  He alone crossed his arms over his chest and beat himself for being unworthy to approach God.  Only women did that, as is still the case today in the Middle East.  This man was serious.  He wanted God to hear him and forgive him.

When the priest entered the Holy Place, it was the most important act of the morning and evening sacrifices of atonement for the nation.  Once atonement had been achieved, it was safe and proper to petition God.  So, every day hundreds of men stood before the Temple and prayed, sang, worshiped, or just stood and felt the Holy Presence.

All four of these readings deal with atonement.  Atonement can only happen if a perfect lamb, or Lamb, is killed.  The blood of the lamb is collected and sprinkled on the four corners of the altar, and the remainder poured out at the base of the altar.  By that process, the living waters are released by God and God’s people can live good lives.

The blood moon is a part of the sign that the pure and Holy Lamb of God has made the final Atonement.  His blood has been given for the whole world.  The moon reflects that sacrifice back to the whole earth.  The sacrifice was made once.  There is need for only one blood moon.

 

Bible quotes used are from the Complete Jewish Bible.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Turn Your Ears to the Truth

Jeremiah 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Dathan could still taste the smoke.  He woke screaming this night and every night, sweating even as he shivered from the cold.  The dream was always the same.  Fires boiling dark, putrid smoke through the streets.  The inhuman screams of his flaming neighbors.  The flash of sunlight as the sword passed through the body of his boy, his Hashub.

That was months ago and in another land.  Now, in Babylon, he really was trying to make a new life, but it was so hard.

Yes, God had to punish his people for their sins.  He could not disagree.  It was justice.  But Hashub who had studied the word of God, even accepting the words of that wild prophet, Jeremiah, why did God take him?

Jeremiah.  Now he was saying Judah and Israel would be reunited and returned to the promised land; that there would be a new way of writing the covenant with God.  No longer would it be enough to memorize the word, they would have to live it out every day.  What did that mean?

Dathan crawled from his pallet and stood looking at the stars, his teeth tapping the rhythm of his chill.  Even in this strange land God’s stars looked the same.  He must truly be eternal.

 

Exposition

The message of God through Jeremiah is that God has redesigned the marriage contract, even though His bride broke the vows.  It is not a new contract, but one on the pattern of Hosea and his marriage to Gomer.  God is husband to an adulterous people, yet He chooses to remain true to His commitment.

For our part, the new contract calls for us to internalize the Word of God.  We can no longer do whatever we want through the week, then sing praises to God for one day.  This marriage must be a full time commitment.

In the days of the old covenant, a man put in his 40 hours at work, putting up with a nagging boss and surly coworkers so that he could go home to a nagging wife and surly kids.  He looked for any excuse to get out of the house.

Now, a man treats everyone as though they are angels of God.

The reading from Psalms 119 stresses the importance knowing the Word of God.  But we must do more than just study.  With the psalmist, we must say, I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.  Now it is personal.  God teaches me the right path.  How can I turn from that teaching?

Paul gives Timothy and us a deeper understanding of instilling the Word into our lives.  Timothy had an advantage of being taught the scriptures from childhood, but that was not enough.  Without faith the scriptures are dead.  Unless we use the knowledge every day, it will die within us.  The Word is a living entity.  Like a plant seed, it has to have a medium for growth plus daily nourishment.  If we allow the Word to grow within us, the Word will take over and control our lives.

Modern Americans have been exposed to thousands of stories of alien life forms imbedding themselves into human bodies and controlling their activities, always for evil.  Sometimes, the alien is portrayed as the devil and mere humans have no way of preventing his takeover.  That is not what Paul is talking about.

God created angels to do the work and humans to be His companions.  To be true companions, He gave us the same abilities He has to think, create, comprehend, and decide; especially to decide what is right.  By the way, the devil cannot take over a person without permission, nor can God.  God made us with our own defense system from outside attack.

Knowing what is right in this world is difficult.  It’s a bit like hitting a moving target while riding in a moving target; or like some video games when the bad ones come from all directions and the highest score is hidden among them.

Oddly, life is like that video game.  Playing the game for the first time nearly always results in being ‘killed’ early one, but the player figures out what went wrong and does it right the next time.  We have the same chance to study the Word and apply it correctly the next time.  Unlike a video game, we can never learn enough to make it to heaven on our own skills.  If we could, God would not have needed to give us the Word.

At first glance, the reading in Luke might not seem to fit with the theme of the other three.  Let’s take a closer look.  These verses are part of a larger encounter which begins with another question from the Pharisees (17:20).  ‘When will the kingdom of God come?’  Jesus short answer is: ‘The kingdom is within you.’  The translation of the Greek may also read, ‘The kingdom is among you.’

Either way, Jesus identifies himself with the Kingdom.  When we take all his teachings together, The Kingdom is here and there, now and later, on earth and in heaven.  If we accept the Word and let it guide us, we are walking in the Kingdom already.

Jesus then moves to the parable of the Judge and the Widow to illustrate the importance of daily contact with God.  We generally think of prayer as giving God a list of the things we want, thinking that surely one or two will be granted.  What we should want is to listen to God.

In Jesus day, the Temple collected money for the widows and orphans.  Anyone who qualified could apply and receive assistance.  But like most governmental operations, they had a long list of rules about who qualified and how to select those people and how much money they should get.

This story is about a widow who was not being treated fairly.  Understand that a woman living alone in ancient Jewish society simply had no way to make money honestly.  Generally, a widow would move in with family who would care for her, but that was not always possible.

This woman needed help and she would not be ignored.  The judge tried to, but finally had to give in and grant the woman’s petition.  Pray without ceasing.

But let’s look at the story from another angle.  This reading is completely within the teachings of Jesus, so I’m not bending it too much.

The woman is God and the judge is you and me.  God bombards us with petitions to do justice, but we try to ignore His words.  Like the judge, we have greater things on our minds than the piddling justice thing.  What the woman/God wants is for the judge/us to listen and obey.

It might surprise you to learn how often the Old Testament speaks of caring for the widows and orphans, or more often, not caring for them.  Justice is not hunting evil doers.  It is caring for the people we meet every day, watching for the little ways we can make their lives easier, always ready to give food, clothing, shelter, money, a warm smile, a hug.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Praise God No Matter What

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Jacob was about as low as a man can get and still be alive.  He had done the same thing almost every day for four months.  Morning again, campfire started, stinking tents belching lice ridden soldiers by the thousands; the same ugly faces, the same complaints, the same smells, the same Union Army.

With a small business, a wife and two children, he had taken little interest in the Southern Rebellion.  Drafted in Brooklyn City, trained and sent to southern Maryland to guard against an invasion, he was sick of it.  Every day he vowed to stop eating the weevil infested hardtack, but hunger always won out.  Every day he gagged on the half rotten pork and beef.  Every day he spent more time at the latrine than any human should.

Maybe today was the day he would slip away like a few others had.  Maybe he would be able to evade the deserter squad and live to see his wife again.  Maybe today.

There was Herman.  Singing.  How could he do that?  Every morning singing hymns like maybe God was actually listening to him.  Jacob’s family had never done with church, but here he was learning church hymns because he couldn’t avoid it.

“Hey, Herman.  Why you always singin’?  We in the deepest hole in Hell.  Ain’t nonethin’ to be happy about.”

“You right about one thing.  I ever visit Hell, I spect it be a mite nicer’n this.  But you wrong about happy.  Happy is having God beside me and He is always beside me so I always happy.”

“I’d be happy to have clean clothes and decent grub.  Nice slice of fresh butchered pork might make me sing a hymn.”

“I’d be happy with that too.  Nothin’ wrong with good grub.  But I ain’t starvin’, so I thank God for the hard tack.  At least we can throw it at the Rebs and knock ‘em out.”

 

Exposition

Jeremiah’s words must have jangled the already frayed nerves of the Hebrews.  They had gone through the long siege of Jerusalem and the long march into captivity.  Now they were being told they were to become model citizens of the very country that attacked them.

As always, God delivers a message to the people who first hear the words and he delivers a message to us as well.  God makes his Words timeless.

To the Hebrews, He says, ‘You are being punished.  Settle in for the long haul.  Learn to do what is right.  Think about your mistakes.  I have said that you will return to the Promised Land, but for now you must make the best of the bad times.’

Let’s be clear, God did not say to become Babylonians.  When we read these words in the context of the whole Bible, He said, ‘Become good Hebrews.’

For Americans today, the message is the same.  We live in a foreign land.  Our true home is the Promised Land, that New Jerusalem John pictured so dramatically in Revelation.  To be good Americans is not the same as being Americans.  We can never be Americans when America is wrong.  We must always be citizens of Heaven first and citizens of America second.

But doing that is not always so easy.  There is currently strong debate over national health care and Christians on both sides (or the two main positions) have reasonable arguments based on the Bible.  I’m not going to take a position here except to stress how important it is that we consider all that God has said.  In addition, it does not matter to a citizen of Heaven what happens.  We will live a life of joy with or without health care.

Verse 11 of the Psalm reading: You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.  And yet, we praise God.  No matter what happens.  Bankruptcy, infidelity, divorce, children gone wild, disease, hunger, God is with us and wants a better life for us and will give us that life in the New Jerusalem.  Now, the evil one is at work in our lives, but we praise God for what is to come.

Paul said this is my Gospel for which I am suffering.  Paul was a citizen of Rome and was often beaten and imprisoned illegally.  Romans were treated differently than others under the law.  Yet, he only used that status when it would bring praise to God.  He suffered so that others could see how devoted he was to God.  He claimed Roman citizenship when that would praise God.

Paul had been on his way to a safe, wealthy, pleasant life.  His family had enough money to send him to study under the most famous rabbi in history.  He, at a very young age, had an important position in the Temple hierarchy.  None of that was important to him after he meet Jesus.  He gave up the easy life so he could suffer for God.

When Jesus met ten lepers, interesting things happened.  They called to him, calling him Master, the only time that was done in Luke.  Jesus did not approach or touch them.  He simply told them to go to the priests.  Nothing was said about healing or faith.  Jesus walked on with the crowd of disciples, perhaps 200 people.

Since they were at the border between Galilee and Samaria, the ten men were probably from both regions.  Being unclean, they had nothing to fear from each other.  The Samaritans had to walk at least 30 miles to Mt. Gerizim to have the priests give them the ritual cleansing and the Galileans had to walk some 50 miles to Jerusalem for the same.

Samaritans had a temple at Gerizim where they offered sacrifices to Yahweh.  They accepted only the Torah, the first five books, as scripture and rejected all other writings and oral teachings.  That is why Jews in both Galilee and Judea looked on them with such scorn.

The Samaritan who returned to praise God and thank Jesus almost surely did so within minutes or hours.  He could not have made the two day walk, done the week of ritual, and walked back in much less than two weeks.  The story suggests immediacy.

The Samaritan is kneeling at the feet of Jesus, possibly even touching his feet, but he is still unclean because he did not go to the temple.  For Jesus, that’s not a problem.  He wonders out loud why the other nine aren’t there.  Jesus spent his life on earth in constant contact with the unclean of the world.  All he said to the man was your faith has made you well.  Yet, all ten men were healed.  It would seem that they all had faith in Jesus, but only one came to thank both God and his Son.

I assume the other nine made their way to one or the other temple for the rituals and were able to rejoin society and their families.  I like to think they praised God at some point.  That is what this lesson is about.

Never forget to praise God.  If times are bad, thank God it’s not worse.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

In A Foreign Land

Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

The mighty walls of Zion breached as I watched Babylon pour through her streets.  Men, women, children cut down by the sword.  Screams all around me, one long horrible outcry of agony.  Thousands trussed up like cattle and marched away to the foreign land where no mulberry tree can grow.

Where is God?  Can He be in Babylon?  He is the God of Judah.  Will He follow us to a foreign land?

God’s message to Zedekiah was to trust God, have faith and return to him.  Can I do less?  Abraham trusted God, gave up his life in Haran and followed His Word to a foreign land, our land given to us by God and the Faith of Abraham.  Surely, God will be with us in Babylon.

It will not be easy living with those who do not know God.  Yet, I have been living with my own people who do not know Him; can it be so different?

 

Exposition

It is fair to say that few Christians find much comfort in reading Lamentations; yet, it is there.  You have to read through a great deal of suffering and sadness before you find any relief and then only a vague promise that it will end sometime.

Why is it in the Bible?  There are several answers, but in the context of the four Scripture readings, it is there to remind us of what it means when we choose to live without God.  Simply put, if I follow God I can live in Jerusalem, but if I do not follow God, I will live in Babylon.

Psalm 137 is also a lament, possibly composed as a song shortly after the return to Judah to remind the people of the dangers of disobeying God.

Paul deals with faith in his second letter to Timothy.  Faith is the issue that binds each of these four readings.  It’s worth noting that Timothy’s father was Greek, so Timothy needed some special instruction from Paul.  Timothy was considered Jewish, however, because his mother was Jewish.  Paul praises her faith and that of his grandmother Lois.  We should not doubt that both women taught the faith to the boy as he grew, but he was expected to follow the religion of his father.  That presented a conflict for the boy that Paul helped him resolve.

In verse 12, Paul says, “That is why I am suffering….”  It is because of preaching the Good News that Paul has been beaten and thrown into prison.  It is suffering for the right reasons, but it is suffering nonetheless.  He no doubt had an understanding of the suffering of Jeremiah and the Hebrews in Babylon that most of us can never appreciate.  Even if they had earned the punishment, it still hurt.

The reading in Luke last week was of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  There are four short verses in between that reading and today’s.  It is a short reminder by Jesus to his disciples that sin would happen and it should be forgiven by them.  There is a whole lesson in those four verses, but that is for another time.  It does set the stage for the twelve to ask Jesus to increase their faith.

Their conception of faith was that it could run from zero to ten on a sliding scale.  If they were at seven, they wanted to move up, hopefully all the way to ten.  Jesus probably shook his head once again at their lack of understanding as he began to explain faith.

We all operate on faith every day.  We have faith that other drivers will stay on the left side of the road and stop at stop signs, even as we remember times our faith was disappointed.  That is a kind of sliding scale faith.  I cannot fully trust other drivers; I reserve the right to consider them dangerous.

Jesus says something quite different.  Faith in God is or is not.  I believe or I don’t.  It is on or off.

The reason is explained by Jesus in the short parable of the obedient servant.  His servant has been working in the field with the master, but when they return to the house the servant is expected to prepare the meal, somewhat the way American men treat their wives.  The master has hired the servant to do that work and the servant should expect no less, certainly not expect praise for doing his job.

How does that explain faith, you may be asking?  Remember that Jesus was talking to the apostles.  They needed to understand what they were getting into by being his talmidim.  A talmid was a student of a rabbi and they had a unique relationship.  They lived together, each talmid taking turns preparing meals and doing the chores.  In addition to learning from the rabbi, the talmidim were expected to become like the rabbi, to imitate him in the best way possible.  While they were close, they were always master and servants.

Faith is having trust in the master.  Part of that is the expectation that the master is always looking out for the talmidim.  Jesus reminds his apostles that he will always protect them as they do the things he has taught them to do.

It is the same lesson learned in the Babylonian exile.  When the people of God had finished crying, they began to realize how foolish they had been.  They repented and returned to God.  They became faithful servants again.

Being faithful is not the same as understanding.  Having faith is not having knowledge.  If I am told by my Master to walk a dark road, I must trust that He knows what He is doing and that I will be cared for.  If I have to fight off dangers and struggle to live, I cannot expect a reward.  Like a good soldier, I have done my duty and I should expect to keep on doing it without praise, secure in the knowledge that God knows what I have done.

Heaven, the New Jerusalem, is not my reward for doing good deeds.  Heaven is the place God may choose to put me if He wants to, regardless of my actions, good and bad.  If I stay faithful by doing what is expected of me, I take comfort in knowing that God will take care of me.

Those of us who follow Jesus live in a foreign land.  This earth and these bodies are not home.  We have faith that God wants more for us, that He has a special place for us when our work as servants is complete.  But here we have to live for now with those who do not know or care about God.  We have to find our way in a hostile world.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

 

Contentment

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

If you get a chance to visit the Eisenhower Library and Museum, you will want to walk through his boyhood home.  It is almost shockingly small, yet David and Ida raised six boys in it (one other died young), all of whom had successful careers.  In addition, the family income would have put them below the poverty line if we had had such a thing then.

How did that happen and why doesn’t it happen more often?

David and Ida were deeply religious and well educated, even reading the Bible in Greek.  They had daily devotions with the whole family, strict discipline, rotating chores at home, and loving, nurturing relationships within the family.  Dwight’s decision to apply for an appointment to the military academies deeply saddened his mother who was opposed to war on principle.  Yet, she accepted him as a person and did not oppose his choice.

We cannot judge the Eisenhowers as God does, but David and Ida do seem to be the kind of people Paul encouraged Timothy to be.  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  The key word is contentment.  That word seems to apply to the Eisenhower parents.  Not that they chose to be poor, but that they accepted it with grace and dignity.  They also made sure their boys had good skills to survive whatever faced them.

Dwight, Little Ike as a youth and just Ike later, served in the army for 25 years before becoming a lieutenant colonel.  Most men would have given up and taken retirement at 20, but Ike accepted the role of teacher, coach, staff member, all the while learning the skills needed for the time he was to be called on for a top position.

Contentment.  We don’t see much of that in America today.

We do see it in Paul, Lazarus, Jeremiah, and the Psalmist.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Before Jeremiah bought his grave site, before he was thrown into prison for delivering an unpopular message, even before he heard the word of the Lord, Jeremiah knew God.  He trusted God and lived according to God’s directions.  Then when God spoke to him, Jeremiah heard Him.  It’s easy to gloss over that, but don’t.  Hearing God requires living close to Him and being willing to hear.

Yes, God spoke to some people like Jacob and Jonah who were not as happy to hear from Him.  Sometimes God had to poke and prod to get his chosen one to move or to speak, but they did hear and did respond.

Don’t get the idea that Jeremiah was Mr. Perfect.  He had some bad days and some grumpy ones too.  Through it all, he never gave up on God.  To give King Zedekiah one more solid message, he bought his own grave site.  He had already told Zedekiah that all the people of the kingdom would be taken into captivity, but he also told him they would return, though not the king.  If you expect to die in Babylon, you don’t buy a grave in Judah.

Jesus found himself walking in Jeremiah’s sandals as he delivered the word of God to the people and to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes.  Just before today’s reading, we see the Pharisees responding to Jesus by “lifting up their noses” at him.  That is the literal translation for a common Middle Eastern expression even today, one showing complete disdain.

Now, he seems to move on to a topic designed to upset the Sadducees in particular.  That may not have been his intent, but it might as well have been.  Sadducees, as far as we know, rejected any notion of life after death.  Since this is the only life, we must make the most of it, so many Sadducees worked hard to accumulate wealth.  That might seem a contradiction when you learn that most priest were Sadducees.  As far as we can tell, their belief system was centered on the Temple sacrifice and worship system.  They apparently believed God could only be reached by the smoke from the holocaustic fires.

Many Pharisees were wealthy also, so both groups would have been upset by the portrayal of the rich man as so cold hearted.  After all, they put coins in the collection trumpets at the Temple.  Besides, God chose me to be rich.  I deserve it.

That attitude is on display as the rich man says, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’  He never speaks to Lazarus, even though he recognizes him, even though he knows his name.

He says, “Father, I am your son.  Send that worthless dog Lazarus to help me.”   He depends on his pedigree to get out of the fire and he still cannot accept Lazarus as his equal.  At least he does not dare chide Abraham for allowing such a nothing person at his banquet.

Abraham responds by accepting the rich man as his son.  In fact, he uses the Greek word teknon, the same word used by the father of the prodigal’s older brother.  It means, ‘my dear son’.  The most interesting point is that Abraham says that Lazarus is comforted.  Nothing was said about being healed or fed.  What Lazarus needed was comfort and the rich man gave him none.  His watch dogs showed compassion on Lazarus by trying to heal his wounds as best they could.  For Jews, dogs were only a tiny step above pigs.

Through it all, Lazarus was content in the knowledge that he was loved by God.  He never said a harsh word against the rich man, not even when he was burning for his lack of compassion.  By accepting the Love of God, he was also able to love.

Being wealthy is not a sin, but it is even more difficult to stay close to God as the bank account increases.  If there is enough ready money, why not buy that new car.  We live in America where God gave us the Interstate system, so we have to have a good set of wheels.  We consume things.  In all that hoopla, it is easy not to hear the voice of God.

Watch for the beggar at your gate.  Oh, the name Lazarus means, the one whom God helps.  My thanks to Kenneth E. Bailey for his observations on this parable.  I recommend all his books.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence