The Gospel of Luke records Jesus telling a startling parable about wealth, power, and salvation. Yet, this parable is rarely talked about—probably because it’s just too hard to handle. Jesus is about to shock us.
On the heels of the parable often called “The Dishonest Manager” (Luke 16:1–13), Jesus tells the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19–31).
The story goes like this: There is a rich man and there is a poor man. The poor man’s name is Lazarus. Despite Lazarus’ pain, the rich man ignored him everyday. Lazarus must have felt each and everyday like wealth and power would inevitably win. The hurting of our world must feel the same way.
Both Lazarus and the rich man die, with poor Lazarus going to Abraham’s side and the rich man going to Hades. In pain, the rich man cries out to Abraham the patriarch for help. Abraham tells him, “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” (Luke 16:25 ESV).
If that bit of divine, poetic justice isn’t enough, here’s where it gets even more shocking: There is a connection here between the parable of The Dishonest Manager and Lazarus’ story. They are right next to each other in the Gospel of Luke, with only a brief interlude about the Law and divorce (Luke 16:14–18).
The parable about Lazarus is all about people not hearing God, or perhaps better put, not caring to hear God. The poor Lazarus is right in front of the rich man and he ignores him.
The story of The Dishonest Manager is all about how those consumed with wealth will inevitably lose sight of what matters most. In the process, these dishonest people will outwit those who care more about the kingdom of God (Luke 16:8), but that’s okay because the reward of the dishonest manager is in this life and this life alone. Nothing shows that more clearly than the rich man’s plight after death.
Both parables show that those concerned with the truth of the gospel cannot live a life like those obsessed with money and their own success. You cannot want the world and get God’s world. You cannot be about power or platform and stand for the gospel.
The parables of Jesus show us that wealth and power isn’t really winning. Something must be compromised for it, nearly always. It is difficult to become a billionaire honestly. It is difficult to maintain your integrity when you work for a dishonest person. It is even more difficult to stay true to God when all you are concerned about is your own wellbeing. Or should I go so far as to say: It’s impossible to be selfish and truly Christian? That may be a bit bold, but consider what Jesus is saying.
The parable of the Dishonest Manager teaches that those who are faithful in little will be faithful in much (Luke 16:10–11). The Dishonest Manager is the opposite; he may please his boss but he does it for his own gain. He is unfaithful through it all (Luke 16:10).
When you are faithful with unrighteous wealth—meaning that of this world—you show God that you can be faithful with the righteous things of God. If you care about the Lazarus-like people you encounter, you are on the right track. If you serve the master who is God, money can’t consume you. But if you serve money, you will inevitably despise the ways of God (Luke 16:13).
The rich man in the parable involving Lazarus ultimately says to Abraham, “Then I beg you, father, to send him [Lazarus] 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” (Luke 16:27–28). Abraham replies by profoundly saying, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. … If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29, 31).
And there it is: The other side of resurrection. If you don’t choose the resurrected life of Christ, you choose death. Jesus offers resurrected life, but that also means living like you’re resurrected now. Living as if others deserve resurrection out of their misery.
Jesus shows us through the parable of Lazarus that a person who hears the truth and ignores it is bound to find a chasm between themselves and God. The dishonest manager shows us that for the lover of money, a chasm already exists.
The summary of the Lazarus parable: If the truth hit you square across the face, you may still ignore it. And God has no intentions of changing that. If he did, you wouldn’t have a choice; and God desires to give us a choice.
The summary of The Dishonest Manager: Don’t be surprised when evil people succeed in this life—they know the ways of this world.
And the summary for all of us: Change our ways, for God is serious about our actions. Choose life with God—nothing else compares, and ultimately, nothing else has anything substantial to offer.