Like so many American’s I like to turn to Facebook, which is of course the ultimate source of all wisdom, to find inspiration. A few months ago, I saw a meme that quoted Christian author Max Lucado. It said, “what if you woke up in the morning and had only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” This idea shocked me and frankly scared me, what if that did happen? This ide makes the parable of the rich man and Lazarus even more difficult to listen to than normal, particularly if we enjoy a lifestyle of comforts. The initial meaning of this parable is quite clear, the wealthy will be tormented in hell and the poor will go straight to heaven, but is that really the message? If it is then I imagine that all of us may be feeling a little uncomfortable right now, but the good news is that, like all parables, there is hope. The rich man had everything he could ever want, good food, great friends, a huge house; but in the end, what was he left with? He was left with an eternity of torment, because he had no faith. He had no sense of gratitude for the life that he had, so when he entered death, he was given only what he had thanked God for the day before, which was nothing. The rich man was so self-absorbed that he only cared for one thing and that was himself. I think that he likely suffered from the old adage that money corrupts, meaning that we can become so wrapped up in our success that we can forget that not everyone is as successful as you and that your success may have in fact come at the expense of someone else. I am sure that the rich man had servants and workers, he probably even had slaves. Did he ever thank his wine steward or his cook or his field hands, let alone God? I am guessing no. The rich man fell far short of what it means to be a follower of Christ Jesus, he fell far short of loving his neighbor and he clearly did not love God.
Jesus said that there are two great commandments, love your neighbors, and love God. Loving God involves regular and open communication with God, it requires us to trust God and recognize the importance of allowing our spiritual lives to guide our earthly lives. It is in this area that I believe most of us, like the rich man, fall short and thus risk a similar fate. The reason the rich man went to hell is not because he was rich, but because he allowed his wealth and power, not his faith, to be the dominant influence in his life.
Living a faith centered life is hard. For many, going to church, buying a raffle ticket at the holiday fair, or even putting a check in the collection plate is easy, but those things do not make us Christians and they are very possibly things that the rich man did. Walking through the world with humility, sharing what we have out of gratitude, and asking for forgiveness when we don’t do those things is what marks us as followers of Jesus Christ. I think that for many people there is a chasm between the things that they do and their faith and what I mean by that is there is no connection between their actions and their relationship with God. Simply going to church or buying a raffle ticket is not faith, it may be a sign that a person supports the idea of God, it may mean that they are attempting to play the part as best they know how, but is what they are doing faith? Faith requires more than lip service; it requires more than feel good actions because a sad commercial, news story, or meme moves you to donate; it requires commitment. It requires a commitment to a life of sacrifice. It requires that we sacrifice things that may very well give us joy, so that we will have time to study scripture and time to talk to God. I have yet to meet a person, bishops included, that has not struggled with making time for God. We lead such busy lives that the idea of stopping for even five minutes to say thank you is not even on our radar, we might even think “God knows I am thankful, why do I have to say it?”. Claiming we are too busy, or that we don’t know how to pray, are nothing but excuses. I am convinced that the rich man never made time for God, even though God was literally begging for scraps on his front step, because he was too busy distracting himself with life, and because of that he is forever separated from God’s love, he is stuck staring across a great chasm for the rest of eternity knowing that it is too late for him, it is too late to give God gratitude for all that he had in life; it is too late to ask forgiveness for ignoring God. The moral of this story is not that we are all going to hell because we have a bunch of stuff; the moral is that we need to not ignore God, we need to heed the teachings of Jesus; we need to love our neighbor as we love ourselves; we need to love God with every fiber of our being; we need to say thank you; and we need to make the time to do it every day.