Annabel Shilson – Thomas reflects on the Bible story of The rich man and Lazarus and the importance of this to us today. This parable calls us to look at our own lifestyles and the way we treat others.

There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there used to lye a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with what fell from the rich man’s table. Even dogs came and licked his sores.

Luke 16. 19-20

The story that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus is one of the best known in the Bible. Its powerful imagery and colourful details make it difficult to ignore.

Although chiefly aimed at the Pharisees who, we are told in an earlier verse, were lovers of money, the story speaks to the Pharisees’ love of wealth that set them apart but, more importantly, their hardness of heart. Imprisoned by their strict rules of ritual purity, they were unable to see beyond a poor man’s sores to his humanity.

While we might feel revulsion at the extravagant attire and lavish lifestyle of the rich man, the horror lies in the fact that he ignores the need of his neighbour. He fails to feel any compassion for the man dying of hunger on his doorstep.

Sometimes it is easier to condemn those who appear to be enjoying themselves than it is to ask ourselves how good a neighbour we are being. We conveniently forget that Jesus enjoyed the good things in life, that he liked eating and drinking, entertaining and being entertained, and that the energy he gave to life sprang from the abundant generosity of his Father in heaven.

Perhaps contrary to first impressions, this story does not call us to condemn abundance – indeed, abundance is what we pray for: life in all its fullness – but to examine our own lifestyle and to question our own generosity. Do we notice the needs of others on our doorstep and further afield? Are we so wrapped up in our own fulfilment that we forget those trapped in poverty whose potential is denied? Are we ready to live more simply, to share more readily and live life more fully so that we can all become the people God would have us be?

Such questions are as pertinent now as they were in Jesus’ day. Now as then, they are not questions to be put off for another day.

Annabel Shilson-Thomas



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