The Haves and the Have-Nots
Pentecost 19 (Proper 21), September 22, 2013
The Haves and the Have-Nots
Text: Luke 16:19–31
I am guessing here today, as I preach my first sermon since July that is not based on one of the ten commandments, I am guessing you all have heard the phrase about the haves and the have-nots. A couple of weeks ago we talked about clichés here. I have heard that phrase often in my more than fifty years, and it usually has referred to football in Wisconsin, as for decades the Packers and Badgers were…have-nots. I could also get into how you who are OU fans would classify those of you who are OSU fans, but since I do not want to see a riot break out here, we will move on.
What we have in our text is a classic case of “The Haves and the Have-Nots.” One: “There was a rich man.” Two: “And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus.”
Jesus obviously is telling the story about the rich man and Lazarus to talk about Haves and Have-nots. But be careful here when you start to think about who the “Have” is here and who is the “Have-Not.”
Is Jesus teaching about being rich or poor here? That is what it looks like at first glance. The playing field was hardly level for the two men. One was clothed in fine linen. He feasted extravagantly, every day. The other had friends carry him to the gate in front of the yard of the rich man. There, he hoped to be fed with what fell from the table of the rich man. He was covered with sores, dogs giving him relief by licking them. If we could see this guy we might say, “Ick.”
There is this kind of disparity in the world we live in today. We have approximately 1.3 million Lutheran brothers and sisters in the South Pacific island country of Papua, New Guinea. One of their favorite New Testament stories is the Canaanite woman who begged Jesus to heal her daughter (Mt 15:21–28). Jesus tested her, saying it was not right to take the bread from the table and throw it to the dogs. But she showed her faith in Jesus when she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (v 27). The people in Papua New Guinea consider themselves very poor compared to people from Australia, Europe, or America. I think a lot of people would say they are Have-Nots.
We look at ourselves and see how much more we have materially. Whatever we feel the economy is doing this month, we have to be honest and say that our country—and most people in it—have been richly blessed financially, comfort-wise, tech-wise. Funny, though, how we can so easily look around us, across the street or across town, and think those folks, the Joneses, are the Haves and we’re somehow Have-Nots. Never mind that we have a house and three meals a day. We have nice things to wear. And yet, even if we get the fact that we are economic Haves isn’t getting the point of our text. Jesus is not talking about being rich or being poor financially. There’s much more to this story of the Haves and the Have-Nots.
We know from a few verses before the text that Jesus was speaking directly to those old familiar villains, the Pharisees. They certainly considered themselves to be Haves. They thought they had it all together. They thought they saved themselves from sin because they were so awesome. They thought their own deeds, works, saved themselves. They thought they knew their Bible so well that they could add a bunch of things to it, the “Aural Tradition.” Perhaps they thought they didn’t have to hear what God’s Word has to say to them, they figured they already knew it. The same temptation comes to us. Some Christians have been known to say they don’t have to go to church because they know it all, thinking “When I was younger, I went to Sunday School.” “I went to confirmation classes, and I’m confirmed.” “I really don’t need to be in church each Sunday to hear more words from the Bible. I have a Bible handy in my house in case I want to read it.”
The people Jesus was speaking to, the Pharisees, were sure they were Haves, but they also looked down at poor sinners who were lost and needed to be saved. Those people, the Pharisees thought, were surely Have-Nots. Remember the Pharisees back one day when Jesus was teaching (Lk 5:17–26) and some men brought a paralyzed man to him—the one they let down through the roof? Jesus told the man, “Your sins are forgiven you” (v 20). The Pharisees questioned, “Who is this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v 21). And Jesus knew that they thought they didn’t need any forgiveness.
Later Jesus tells the story about one of them standing in the temple and saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even like that (guy)” (18:11). But hear what God says in His Word about that: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). Your place in the house of God is standing alongside the one who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” You will hear God saying to you, “This man went (back) to his house (forgiven)” (Lk 18:13–14). And your place is in the house of God where you hear God’s servant, your pastor, saying to you, “I forgive you all your sins.”
In vv 16 and 17, just before our text, Jesus reminded them, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” Here’s what constitutes real having or not having: God Has Given the Law and the Gospel for People to Have as His Word.
The Law and the Gospel, all of God’s Word, makes the difference between the Haves and the Have-Nots. The angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day . . . a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10–11). Jesus told the people, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God” (4:43). St. Paul wrote the words of 1 Cor 15:3–4 for you also: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. . . . he was buried. . . . he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” Whether or not the Word of God resides here in your heart is what makes us Haves or Have-Nots.
Jesus moves the story about the rich man and Lazarus forward. Lazarus died, and what did he have? He did have the angels carry him to Abraham’s side. The rich man died, but he did not have the same outcome as Lazarus. He did have people bury him. And he did have a place in Hades. That’s hell. He did not like it there, it stunk! And he did have eyes to see Abraham far off and Lazarus.
The rich man, in hell, wants Abraham to send Lazarus to relieve his anguish in the flame. But Abraham said, “Nope. Can’t go back and forth—big chasm between us and you.” Now, the story could have ended there, at the great chasm. But the rich man presses on, saying, in vv 27–28, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (v 29).
There’s the heart of the story. All along, Jesus is telling about having God’s Word. The five brothers have God’s Word and must become hearers of that Word. But, sadly, they haven’t been hearing it. You, on the other hand, have God’s Word—both the Old Testament and the New, both the Law and the Gospel. You have God’s Word in Moses and the Prophets, the Old Testament, for you to hear regularly, every Sunday. You have God’s Word in the New Testament: the Good News of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection for your salvation. You have God’s Word in the cross, the reminder of your salvation. You have God’s Word in the bread and wine that give you forgiveness, life, and salvation. You have God’s Word, hearing it in worship, studying it in Bible class. You have it. You are Haves.
This is not about money, this is about having God’s Word, having Faith. You are haves. The 1.3 million Lutherans in New Guinea are haves. All Christians are haves.
You are like the people who heard the shepherd’s words as they returned from seeing the baby Jesus. Those people “wondered” at the words (Lk 2:18). You, too, can be amazed, astonished, when you hear the Good News of salvation. Mary quietly “treasured” the words (2:19). You, too, can treasure up in your memory the Good News of the kingdom of God. Mary “pondered” the words in her heart. You, too, can be amazed about the Good News. Your heart is the good soil in the parable of the sower. When the Word of God is sown in your heart, you are firmly planted with those believers who “hold it fast . . . and bear fruit with patience” (8:15). Jesus says to you also, “Blessed . . . are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (11:28).
Always know you are blessed. Always know you are rich! Because of what God does, what God gives, you have His Word, Faith, Salvation. You are a have.