“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
I find this a deeply disturbing passage. I once lived near Cape Town in our large, family home with a tennis court and swimming pool. At one time a rough sleeper chose a bush at our front gate as the place where he and his two dogs would spend their nights. When I cut down the bush he was forced to move on.
Do Jesus’ words have anything to say to a person such as me, whose actions are so closely mirrored in those of the ‘rich man’ in the parable? Will I also be required to give an account to God for the way I have lived and face the consequences of my callous behaviour? Or do Jesus’ words of warning, for some reason, not apply to me? Does divine pardon mean I can treat my neighbour as I will?
The Scriptures abound in accounts of final judgement.
For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. (2Cor5:10)
The eternal aspects of the Gospel underscore the significance of all we do in this world. It is only in this life that we can show kindness to the poor or love for our enemies. Only here are we able to affirm our children or hug our grandchildren. Now is the only time we have to apologise for the hurts we have caused or to say ‘I love you’ to those who are close to us. This life is so very short. We are like the new grass in the morning. By evening it has withered.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance… So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. (Ps 90:8,12)
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Heal this callous heart of mine from its arrogance and self-conceit And teach me to walk humbly before you and in this world. Bring me to my final end depending only on your grace Secure in your love and free from all fear.