top of page

The Rich Man & Social Distancing (First Sunday after Trinity)

[Luke 16:19-31] “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

The Rich Man & Social Distancing

Social distancing. Stay six feet apart. Stay at home. Carry out, yes. Dining in, no. Retail, no. Hardware, that’s okay. Shaking hands? Not a chance. Wear a mask, or no mask? Verrrrry controversial. For a while, you had to be careful when discussing such a hot button issue as social distancing.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the man Lazarus already knows social distancing – but a very different kind of social distancing. And the rich man is oblivious to it.

Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks about a form of social distancing in today’s Gospel – the great distance between two men in life who are not very far apart at all.

The man Lazarus was poor – and was covered with sores on his body – and had only filthy dogs as his companions. The rich man, unnamed in our Lord’s story, fared well, ate well, was well dressed, and had gladness every day.

Lazarus, reduced to the likes of a dog, desired only to be fed with what fell from the man’s table. Though Lazarus laid at the gate of the rich man’s property, the rich man gave no thought to him. They were very near to each other physically, yet, socially, totally distant.

Who is near to you whom you’ve remained so distant from?

The rich man fails to give attention to what Lazarus needs, not because he fails in his politics, and not because he is rich, but because he does not truly love God. Or, rather, because he does not first know the love of God.

We read in 1 John 4:16-21 about the love of God – God’s love – and the believer’s love which flows from it. “God is love”, and “We love because he first loved us.” “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

God first loved you. He first loved you in giving His Son to die for you. And, now, you love Him because He first loved you and you know His love. But if you do not love other men or women for whom He also gave His Son to die (since He died for all), then how can you say that you love Him truly?

Who does the rich man love? In death, Lazarus is carried by angels to the side of Abraham. The rich man dies, is buried, and his soul is in torment in the fire of hades. There, in his torment, the rich man expresses no regret for how he ignored and neglected Lazarus in life. Instead, the rich man asks that Lazarus be sent to give attention to him to relieve his anguish.

The rich man does express concern for his five still-living brothers whose sins, it seems, were the same as his. No concern is expressed, though, for their true wrongdoing, but only that they would escape torment. The rich man has love for himself and for his own. But love for our own only is not the love of God who gave His own for the sake of all.

In life, Lazarus was in need of the rich man’s help to alleviate his earthly anguish. Now, in death, the rich man seeks alleviation for his eternal anguish and will receive none.

Brothers and sisters, who sits at your gates in need of relief? How many friends, acquaintances, neighbors, or family members sit at the gate of your mouth, needing the relief of the treasure of the Gospel of Jesus, which you know and possess, yet you withhold it from them by your silence?

How many sit in need of the loving instruction or correction of God’s Law, yet you withhold that from them to protect your own sense of comfort in your relationship with them?

We hold a much greater treasure than material riches, yet how many inwardly poor and spiritually needy men and women sit right outside the gates of our bodies and we pass them by, paying them no regard, failing to consider that they need the very thing God has supplied to us – peace in Christ, the truth of what’s right, knowledge of our Savior - a treasure we should not keep distant from others.

We remain socially close and attentive to others in the most mundane and pointless matters, yet very distant where it really counts.

There are also many others from whom we remain socially distant who do need the help of our material riches. Just outside the gates of our neighborhoods are other neighborhoods where life is not the same. We all live not far from neighborhoods through which we are nervous even to drive.

But, think about this, the many dangerous and poverty stricken areas that you and I, as adults, are nervous to drive through, many children are born in them and are raised in them – facing the fears every day and night that you and I make sure to avoid. And consider the many mothers, or the elderly, or disabled persons who live in these places, not by choice. (Even in the worst neighborhoods, most people are not the criminals, but live under the fear of them.)

You and I live very socially distant from these parts of our nation that physically are not very far from us at all. Yet, we pass by them daily giving very little thought for the people in them – just as the rich man passed by Lazarus every day.

A long-term effect of this kind of social distance might be seen in the riots and chaos going on in countless cities around us – riots and chaos that leave our own lives largely unaffected. We really are distant from those not far from us. This is not a good thing.

The poor man in our reading is named “Lazarus”. Lazarus is a name, a word, which means “God is my help”. There are many people just outside our gates whose only help is God. Yet God works always through His church, through His people. When we do not seek to help those who need God as their help, we become deserving of the rich man’s fate.

The rich man, I’m sure, had his probable reasons for why he shouldn’t help Lazarus – but his true reason was his lack of love for God and therefore for God’s creatures. We might give our reasons too, but, in the story, Abraham gives us this response: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. ”

In short, brothers and sisters, we are called to be like God in the world [1 John 4:17; Ephesians 5:1]. God, upon seeing sinful, truly guilty, and condemned you and me outside His gate, gave His greatest treasure, His only Son Jesus, to die for our sins in our place, so that we are now forgiven and made His children.

You and I are now to show that same love of God by giving our treasure – both physical and spiritual – without regard for the merit or worthiness of those receiving. We are all Lazaruses. God has made Himself our help, sinners though we be, and we are now called to be the help of others. May God grant it to us to be so more and more. Amen.

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

[1 Timothy 2:1-6] First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peace

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

[John 16:5-7] But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you

The Third Sunday of Easter

[Psalm 23] The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's


bottom of page