The Sin of Omission
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
The Rich Man and Lazarus. There was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury every day. v20There was also a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who used to be brought to the rich man’s door, v21hoping to eat the bits of food that fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs would come and lick his sores. v22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to sit beside Abraham at the feast in heaven. The rich man died and was buried, v23and in Hades, where he was in great pain, he looked up and saw Abraham, far away, with Lazarus at his side.
Read: Luke 16:19-31
As the elite men in the crowd who were listening to Jesus were scowling, Jesus told yet another parable. Today’s scripture continues Jesus’ interchange with the parable of the “rich man and Lazarus.” This is the only time that Jesus uses an actual name of a person in his parable. The Rich Man is named Dives in the Vulgate version of the Bible pronounced ‘Dive-ees’: it’s Latin for “Rich Man” as he has been called for centuries (sermons.com). Dives would have felt very comfortable living in our present time. He was a progressive kind of a guy. He was self-indulgent, and this is the age of self-indulgency. The contrasting life-styles of these two men is so obvious that you can’t miss it. As it is, the name Lazarus derives from the Hebrew lazaros, which means “whom God has helped.” The word comes from the verb eliezer, which means “God helps.” It is illustrated in the parable the need to help as it should be in our Christian nature and ways. We should not always be contented with being on the righteous corner but we should take part in the actions that can help those who do not have the same blessings as we have. Doing nothing if we can is a sin. The sin of omission.
It is not a sin to be rich. Many handle wealth in this world and use it to great benefit to the eternal welfare of humanity. Being poor will not send a person to heaven, either. Many in hell have known extreme poverty in life. There are many sins that the rich man may have committed, but his primary sin was that he was pretty content without God. His life was one in which he had no need. He never noticed or cared about Lazarus, which certainly would have increased his condemnation. He seems to have thought that it was perfectly normal and natural that Lazarus should wallow in pain while he basked in a life of luxury. He looked at a fellow man, hungry and in pain, and did nothing about it
Dives did not take Lazarus under his notice or recognize him as his brother. That was his sin: he did nothing. How often is it ours? We do nothing wrong; we just do nothing. Dives is cut off from God, sent into torment in Hades not for being rich, well fed, or distinctively dressed, but because he cut himself off from helping his brother. He ignored the poor man standing at his doorstep and closed his heart in the face of human misery that confronted him daily. Lazarus provided him with an opportunity to exercise charity, overcome selfishness and attain eternal salvation. Heaven is prepared for while we are on earth.
A parable with a proper name, the story of Lazarus and the rich man breaks open two connected themes – the love of money and the disregard for God’s law. Rich becomes almost synonymous with sinners, and poor with saint. As in the passage from Amos and in 1 Timothy 6:6-19, attachment to the good life seems to separate us incrementally from the holy life. Virtue emerges from our devotion to God. The things of the world – that things that money can buy – can woo us off the path to Christian virtue.
This illustration by Richard W. Patt is very appropriate on the message of the parable. There was a beautiful lake that lost its zesty freshness. The water formerly had been clear. It was alluring to animals and people alike. But it became covered with a green scum. The farm animals became ill from drinking the water. Finally, someone came by the lake who understood the problem. Debris collecting from the hard spring rains had stopped up the dam and prevented the free flow of water, not into the lake, but out of the lake. The spillway was cleared, and soon the lake was fresh and clean again. The flow in and out was necessary to keep the water pure!
Doesn’t the same principle apply to you and me as human beings? The blessings of life flow to you and me, but we fail to realize that most of these blessings are not meant just to flow to us, but through us, for the good of others around us, especially for those in need.
There is a story about a botanist who was studying the heather bell found in the highlands of Scotland. While looking through his microscope at this beautiful flower, he was approached by a shepherd who asked what he was doing. Rather than trying to explain, the botanist invited the shepherd to peer through his microscope and observe for himself. When the shepherd saw the wonder of the flower, he exclaimed, “My God, and I have been tramping on them all my life!”
Is that the word of warning we need? Wake up! Pay attention! Look around you. You may be tramping on the heart of someone nearby. Who is the Lazarus at your gate? (King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com)
We often avoid talking about repentance, but in His story, Jesus talks about the need for repentance, a change of mind as well as a change of direction toward the Lord. This rich man had prayed twice while in hell. The first prayer was for water; the second was for his five brothers on earth. Both prayers were refused. Like the unjust steward in the passage before (Luke 16:1-13), he had been unfaithful to his responsibility. His responsibility was toward those around him, but especially to his brothers. Now that he was in hell, he remembered that his brothers were living the same kind of life he had modeled to them, i.e., a contented life without God. The one thing that can add agony to a person in hell is to be shut up forever with those you have helped to bring there. Every one of us influences others for good or for worse. Let us commit ourselves to be faithful to those who model their lives after us, our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, and close relatives. We must live wholeheartedly for Christ. Other people’s lives and eternities depend on it.
Let us pray.
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.**