Eyes Open

A detail from Fedor Bronnikov’s “Lazarus at the Rich Man’s Home,” painted in 1886.

A Parable of Jesus, from Luke 16:19-31 (NRSV)

“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.’

“He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

By Chuck Griffin

Having heard the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, you may be having trouble seeing yourself in the story. That’s understandable. Lottery jackpot billboards aside, most of us don’t seriously imagine a life of great wealth and constant feasting. I suspect our basic psychological makeup also makes it difficult for us to imagine having fallen so low in life that we could end up lying in the street with festering sores, stray dogs the only creatures who seem to notice us.

And yet, I find this parable to be almost universally applicable.

Certainly, the lesson is taught through extremes of wealth and poverty. But at the same time, it’s not really about the dangers of wealth, nor does it somehow invest poverty with a kind of holiness. Instead, Jesus gives us a lesson for the heart.

Notice something about both men in the first of the parable. They simply are described in their respective states. There’s no evidence they interact; at no point does poor Lazarus actually ask the rich man for anything, and at no point is the rich man portrayed as having rejected Lazarus directly. They simply are in proximity to each other.

The parable points out the danger of a terrible sin, a sin we seldom talk about. It is the sin of self-absorption, of being unable to see a need that is before us. It is the sin of unsearching eyes; it is the sin of walking past someone and not caring.

We tend to think, “It is what I do that could send me to hell, to an eternity separated from God.” Jesus is telling us something very different—there is tremendous danger in what we fail to do.

The extremes of wealth and poverty are in the story for a basic reason. They make clear the rich man has no excuse for his failure to act. With such wealth, he could have easily cared for the poor man who had wandered into his circle of influence. The rich man would not have missed what Lazarus required for restored health and a decent standard of living.

The rich man is not condemned for failing to care for all poor people, just for failing to help the one at his gate. I’m reminded of the story of the thousands of starfish washed ashore on a beach, gasping and dying. A little girl walked the ocean’s edge, throwing starfish into the ocean.

A man came along and said, “Little girl, there’s no way you can save all those starfish!”

“You’re right,” she replied, throwing another one in the ocean. “But I saved that one.”

The rich man could have at least said of Lazarus, “I saved that one.”

Some may protest this interpretation by pointing out how we are saved by faith, not works, and on that point, I would agree. We can do nothing without the grace of God at work in us, and we receive God’s saving grace through a belief in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.

Jesus intertwines faith and action in his teachings, however, presenting them as the rope that pulls us from the pit. This parable has much in common with Jesus’ teaching about the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, where he sorts the judged to his left and right—to damnation or eternal joy—based on how they treated the stranger, the poor, the sick and the imprisoned.

The lesson is the same in both accounts: Our actions best reveal whether our hearts rest near the bosom of Christ.

This teaching is good news! We are actually being invited to participate in God’s restorative work in the world. All we have to do is pray that the Christ who saves us also makes us intentional about seeing the brokenness around us.

I once worked in a nonprofit relief organization with a woman who required a family to allow her to make a home visit before they could receive any significant aid. I asked her one day why she did that—I could tell some of the families felt they were being scrutinized or even judged.

She laughed, telling me that yes, some of them probably felt that way, but the home visits let her see the needs the families weren’t revealing. Even the poorest people in rural Upper East Tennessee are generally a proud bunch, and often the problem was getting them to ask for all the help our little nonprofit could provide.

When I understood what she was doing, I admired her approach. She was actively searching for need so she could see it and address it.

The end of the parable emphasizes the overall point. The rich man’s last request is that Lazarus be sent to his presumably rich brothers as a warning about the danger of their hard-heartedness. Abraham makes it clear that these lessons about compassion have already been delivered by Moses and prophets, and that men who failed to hear those ancient words would continue in their deafness “even if someone rises from the dead.”

And there again is the great danger of unseeing self-absorption. When we fall into it, we miss God entirely. In God’s greatest work in this world, Christ rose from the dead, but self-absorption can leave us blind to even this great miracle.

Lord, make us alert. Show us the broken people in this world and how we can play some small part in undoing their suffering. Amen.

A Bunch of Do-Gooders

By Chuck Griffin

As we enter the last quarter of the year and what we typically think of as the “holiday season,” I’m sure many of you feel as frustrated as I do. This pandemic is still with us, despite many of us thinking in the middle of the year that the situation would be more normal by now.

Worship attendance is down, and despite having had what seemed like some very powerful worship experiences recently, I long for the weekly church participation we used to see. At the same time, I understand where most people are. Within my own family, we have a lot of concerns regarding what could be carried to the unvaccinated and vaccinated-but-vulnerable people among us.

Galatians 6:8-10 offers us a straightforward strategy to bear us through these tiresome times: “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

How can we continue to do good in the world, focusing in particular on the good of our fellow church members? Or perhaps I should pose the question in the singular: How can I do good … how can you do good? This isn’t a new concept for Christians, of course. Each of us needs to arise in the morning and think, “I want to do something that counts as good today, something that makes a difference.”

Thinking such thoughts raises our level of alertness, which is critical if we are to get our timing right. Some of you know I have practiced karate for years, and we who do so have these pithy little sayings that are translations from what is known as the “Karate Code.” One of my favorites is, “The time to strike is when opportunity presents itself.”

We strike at evil whenever we do good. But we have to keep our eyes open for those limited windows of opportunity. And then we have to be bold enough to move quickly.

We may be more constrained in how we move about the world right now, but as we move about, let’s keep our eyes open for those places where a kind word, a prayer or our resources can go to work right away.

Even a pandemic isn’t powerful enough to keep us from consciously doing good. And never forget that as we do good, we are planting for the future. God promises we will reap mightily for the kingdom.

Lord, we ask that you do more than just bring us through this difficult time. May we make good use of the time we are in now. Amen.

A Shocking Assertion

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Investing In the Future.” It will be based on Jeremiah 32:6-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: 1 Timothy 6:9 (NRSV)

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.


By Chuck Griffin

A couple of times before on Methodist Life, I have referenced a John Wesley sermon, “The Danger of Riches.” As we look toward Sunday’s Jeremiah text and consider how to live boldly, I thought it would be useful to consider what the sermon has to say.

Bold behavior for the kingdom doesn’t have to involve money, of course. But let’s be realistic. Money does make the modern world go around. When we are bold for the kingdom, we likely run into one of two scenarios. We either give from our abundance or we make life decisions that reduce our opportunity for abundance.

As we make these choices, we need to fix in our minds a question, one along the lines of what I wrote for Wednesday. Do we live as if this life is the only one that counts? Or do we live as people who believe something greater is happening—that God’s kingdom is truly arriving, and that the kingdom is where we store our true treasures and live out eternity!

Once we choose the latter option, we’re ready to hear what Wesley said as he expanded on 1 Timothy 6:9.

In the sermon, Wesley asserted that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even businesses we may own. What we own beyond those basic provisions count as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.”

Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Wesley offered us an interpretation that might even surprise a tither. I have no doubt someone accused the founder of Methodism of having “gone to meddling.”

His very correct interpretation of Scripture should force a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions. When we learn to make such decisions in the light of God’s dawning kingdom, we not only trust God daily, we begin to participate actively in the kingdom’s growth.

In other words, we become quite bold.

Lord, the world needs people who look to you as the source of all that matters and then act accordingly. Raise up a bold generation so that your Holy Spirit may rush through them, making your Kingdom work complete. Amen.

When Push Comes to Peace

Luke 6:27-31 (NRSV)

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”


I suspect a lot of good Christians wince at this radical teaching of Jesus, immediately imagining a dozen or more scenarios where these precepts seem impractical.

We are in good company. The church—by that, I mean the great, historic, traditional church stretching back to the earliest days of Christianity—has always struggled with how to live into Jesus’ teachings while contending directly with a world full of dangerous evil.

Facing imminent attack? Well, you may find Just War Theory helpful. And there are many other situations where theologians have acknowledged it can be more loving to take a naturally repulsive action than to take no action at all.

For example, turning the other cheek is a noble response, but if in doing so you endanger the lives of people dependent on you, then a different strategy may be in order. Much of what Jesus said is about witnessing to others, and allowing unnecessary harm to happen makes for a poor display of Christ’s love.

Let’s not, however, turn those rare compromises into an excuse for avoiding what Jesus would have us do. It’s particularly important we follow these teachings when a pacifist response could transform another’s soul.

Verbally assaulted? Be the one who responds with kindness.

Confronted with great need? Do something about it, even if the people in need somehow seem unworthy by worldly standards.

As we deliberately practice Jesus’ teachings in everyday situations, perhaps we will find new and creative ways to apply them to major conflicts.

Dear Lord, help us to identify opportunities to practice what you have preached, swallowing our emotional responses so we may instead demonstrate your love. Amen.

Houseful of Servants

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 24:45-51
Jesus Discusses the Need To Stay Ready

“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”


Just in case you’re missing the meaning—we are the servants. In a culture where we have a tendency to exalt ourselves, we can fail to recognize this all-important starting point.

We have hit a place in the cycle of Bible readings where we’re getting daily reminders that our situation is temporary. Christians believe Jesus Christ will return one day to set the world right, restoring holiness and driving away evil. This servant metaphor is embedded in a long section of Matthew where Jesus talks in very apocalyptic tones.

Servants have responsibilities; we are to understand ourselves as being in charge of each other’s well-being. Remember Philippians 2:4? “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

In a lot of ways, a narcissist—a psychopathically self-centered person—is the behavioral opposite of the perfect Christian. Most of us fall on a scale somewhere in between these two extremes, and we of course want to be “going on toward perfection,” to use an 18th-century Methodist term.

How will we be found? Caring for others, or obsessively taking care of our own needs and wants?

These are good questions to ask ourselves as we arise each morning. They could very well shape what we do each day!

Lord, help us to look out for those opportunities to support our fellow servants. As we care for each other, we know your household will grow stronger day by day, until the day we see you in full. Amen.