What was the rich man’s sin in the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus? (Luke 16:19-31)
In the parable Jesus tells how a rich man lived in luxury and Lazarus, a poor man lived as a beggar, covered with sores lying at the rich man’s gate, longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. They both died. Lazarus went to heaven to be at Abraham’s side. The rich man went to hell.
It wasn’t because the rich man had wealth, or that he did anything affirmatively wrong to Lazarus that caused him to go to hell. Though Jesus doesn’t specify a reason, the implication is that it was the rich man’s indifference to Lazarus. He had to pass Lazarus everyday as he went in and out of his gate, but he paid him no attention. He made no inquiry. He never tried to help, or even give him what fell from his table.
Do we realize how much of a sin indifference is? Indifference is non-love. Though it appears to be passive in nature, it is still a choice – a decision not to act, not to help, not to love. Since God is love, indifference is the antithesis of God and all that he desires for us.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput commented on this parable in his recently published book, Strangers in a Strange Land. He says, “The story underscores a simple fact: If we don’t love the poor we will go to hell. If we let our possessions blind us to our dependence on God, we will go to hell. If we let food and clothes and all the other distractions of modern life keep us from seeing the needs of our neighbors, we will go to hell.”
He goes on to remind us that Abraham was also a rich man, but he never forgot his dependence on God.
Jesus has harsh words for people who are indifferent or lukewarm in living out their faith and serving others’ needs. He tells the Church in Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot or cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16)
In our affluence and busyness, we can easily become isolated from those less fortunate, and as a result, indifferent to their needs. Even when we see someone asking for money on a street corner, we may still pass them by because of our indifference, or we make the excuse that they may use what we give them to buy alcohol or drugs.
A few years ago I was traveling with a colleague at the Los Angeles Airport. At the bottom of the escalator leading to the baggage claim, was a nun collecting for some cause. After I gave her a few dollars, my colleague asked how I knew whether she was legitimate and not a scam. I said I didn’t, but that was not my responsibility. It was hers. My responsibility as a Christian is if I see a need, I should try to respond to it as best I can. Unfortunately, I haven’t always done this.
As the parable suggests, the consequence for our indifference is significant.