Similar stories are told in almost every culture. Surely you’ve seen it played out in a book or on TV. You know the one: The high-and-mighty rich person loses everything while the down-on-their-luck poor person suddenly gains the riches they’d only dreamed of.
The one I vividly remember is the movie Trading Places with Eddie Murphy & Dan Aykroyd. Murphy plays a homeless con who (that’s right!) trades places with Aykroyd’s successful Wall Street vice president. Eventually they team up to take down the real villains — the rich white brothers that remind everyone of evil versions of Statler & Waldorf from the Muppets.
We see these reversal of fortune stories everywhere. There is something gratifying there for us. We find justice in the poor being lifted up. But if we’re honest, we take even more pleasure in seeing the proud finally experiencing their fall.
It’s easy to look at our reading this week and the story Jesus tells in Luke 16 and see just another reversal of fortune tale. But look closer – there’s something more here.
The key to this story lies earlier in the chapter in Luke 16:9:
“Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”
Lazarus spent his life at the gate of the rich man. So every day, the rich man would pass Lazarus as he left his home to conduct his business. And every day he left Lazarus there with dogs licking his wounds.
At any time he could have stopped to talk to Lazarus. He could have given him some money. He could have helped his plight. He could have brought him into his home and fed him and clothed him and bandaged his wounds. But instead he ignored his existence, probably angry that the beggar was bringing down the value of his property.
It wasn’t until the rich man found himself in the place of the dead that his eyes were opened to what was important. He begged to warn his family, but it was too late.
The tragedy in the end was not that the rich man no longer had money. The tragedy is that he never used it as an opportunity to build relationship with Lazarus. Instead of a bridge, he built a moat. And in the end that chasm was too large to overcome.
If our money and stuff do not give us avenues into the lives of other people, then what exactly is it for?
One of the amazing elements of the Gospel of Jesus is that a God who has everything, who could want for nothing, has a deep desire for relationship with us. We have nothing to offer him but ourselves, yet he sacrificed everything just to be in relationship with us.
So the lesson for us is the same: Be hungry for relationship. Invest in what truly matters. Invest in what will not rust or fade away. Wealth and money and stuff are not bad — just use them to gain what is really valuable.
Because relationships with God and others last into eternity.
So today may we all use whatever we have been blessed with to build relationship with others. Let us use our money and our things and our time to bring us closer to those around us.
May we all invest wisely today.