Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Of Wealth and Foolish Kings

Two passages struck me from today's appointed readings from The One Year Chronological Bible, as I had my daily quiet time with God.

First: Psalm 14:6, where David writes, "...evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge."

It reminds me of the parable Jesus tells of a poor man, Lazarus (not to be confused with his friend, Lazarus) and an unnamed rich man in Luke 16:19-31.

The rich man in Jesus' parable had everything he wanted in this world, the false idols of self and money that he craved...and worshiped. He passed poor Lazarus every time he went in or out through the gate of his home, evidently not giving him a second thought. Clearly, Lazarus was thwarted from enacting any plans he might have for improving his life or gaining healing by the care he might have received from the wealthy among whom he lived.

In the course of the parable, Lazarus dies and so does the rich man.

Lazarus, who has trusted in God despite his suffering, is taken by the angels to occupy an honored place next to Abraham, the patriarch of Israel who had believed in God and God's promises even though he couldn't see God.

The rich man, meanwhile, who had lived only for himself, his ambitions, and his desires, is tormented in the fires of Hades.

The rich man, evidently not much changed by the eternal condemnation under which he is living, calls out to ask Abraham to send Lazarus to serve him by giving him water. Abraham says that won't be possible: There is a chasm between God's heaven where those who have, in this lifetime, turned from sin and trusted in the God we now know in Jesus, on the one hand, and the place where those who have turned from God and trusted only in themselves or in the dying things of earth, on the other.

When the rich man finally thinks of someone other than himself, he asks that Lazarus (notice that once again, the rich man wants the beggar to serve his desires) be sent to his brothers to call them to repentance and faith in God so that the brothers won't suffer eternally as he is. The rich man figures that if they see a once-dead man in the flesh, they'll repent for their sin and believe in God. Abraham says that won't be possible either. Jesus, Who, of course, will die and be raised from the dead, says that Abraham tells the rich man, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." (Luke 16:31)

This parable surely underscores what the Psalm teaches. Even if and when evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, evil need not be the last word over their lives. God promises that all who turn from sin and trust in Christ will be with Him for eternity.

But the parable also indicates that those who spurn the freely offered gift of new life for all who repent and believe in the God revealed in Jesus, face a horrifying, eternal, and permanent prospect of separation from God and the life that only Jesus can give. Meanwhile, those who trust in Jesus, God the Son, will live with God at their sides, both in the imperfections and difficulties of this world and in the eternal perfections of life beyond our own death and resurrections.

Every believer in Jesus will be interested in caring for the poor and building others up as a matter of course. When you know that by God's grace through faith in Christ, you belong to God forever, sharing the blessings God has given to you isn't odious, it's an involuntary act of gratitude for God's goodness given in the crucified and risen Jesus.

2. "Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly." (1 Samuel 26:21)

These are words spoken by Israel's first king, Saul. He has been trying to kill David, the man God clearly has in mind to be Saul's successor. Saul is consumed with murderous jealousy because he understands that while he has become, in an old phrase, "yesterday's man," David is "tomorrow's man."

Saul speaks the words cited above after David had spared Saul's life even though he could have killed the sleeping Saul with the king's own spear.

For a moment, Saul recognizes how foolishly he's acted. Consumed with himself and his desire for glory, he has sought to kill a virtuous man. (David wasn't always virtuous. But that's a story for another time.) More than that, Saul was seeking to thwart the plans of God to make David king. And so, Saul expresses regret for his foolishness and errant ways.

It's refreshing when leaders can say things like, "I'm sorry. I've been foolish. Please forgive me. I take the blame." In this moment of honest repentance and humility, Saul showed more greatness than he had at any other time in his life.

But it wasn't to last. Soon, he would be chasing after David again. Repentance and faith do not come naturally to we human beings; they only happen when, by the power of God's Holy Spirit and the Word of God working on us, we can lay aside our inborn aversion to God and trust in Him.

Father, help me to be a person humble enough to confess my foolishness and to know that having others' respect and esteem isn't important. All that matters is that I trust in You. Help me to do that today. And, God, in our world, grant us leaders who are humble enough to change course when they've gone wrong, who will listen to Your call to repentance, confess their sins, receive the forgiveness available to those who turn to Christ, and trust in You alone. In Jesus' name, I pray, Amen.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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