Over the next few days we will be looking at wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Each day I hope to illustrate Solomonic wisdom from a narrative portion in Scripture. We will start by examining what we can learn about our attitude to the poor.
RICH MAN POOR MAN (Luke 16:19-31)
There are three kinds of givers in the world – the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a flint you have to hammer it and then you only get sparks. To get water from a sponge you have to squeeze it. But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness. Which kind of a giver are you?
- THE MAKER OF THE POOR
In Proverbs 22:2 we are told, rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all. This is reinforced by what Solomon goes on to say in Proverbs 14:31, he who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. The first thing that is immediately obvious to us from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is the complete contrast in their economic fortunes. On the one hand we have a picture of fabulous wealth and on the other we have a picture of abject poverty. The rich man had a palatial dwelling and ate the finest foods. The poor man rummaged through dustbins. The rich man was healthy. The poor man was sick. There is only one thing that the poor man had that the rich man did not have in this parable. It is so obvious that we sometimes overlook it. The poor man had a name – Lazarus. The rich man had no name. Of course he was well known about town but as far as Jesus was concerned he had no name. He was just rich, nothing else. The name Lazarus comes from the Latin form of the Hebrew Eleazar which means; “he whom God helps.” It was God who knew and cared for this man.
- THE MISTREATMENT OF THE POOR
In Luke 16:20 we are told that Lazarus was laid at the gate of the rich man. How was he mistreated. Firstly, he was shunned. I am sure that the rich man was well aware about the beggar on his doorstep, but he chose to ignore him. He was shunned. In Proverbs 19:7 we read, a poor man is shunned by all his relatives- how much more do his friends avoid him! Though he pursues them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found. The second thing that we notice about Lazarus is that he was helpless. In Proverbs 18:23 we read, a poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly. The poor are often helpless. In Luke 16:21 we are told that he longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. He was the picture of helplessness. Not only was he hungry but he was also covered with sores. Ironically the only creatures that had any compassion on Lazarus were the mangy dogs. Notice how vrs 21 ends, “even the dogs came and licked his sores.” A third way in which the poor are mistreated is through oppression and exploitation. In Proverbs 22:22-23 we read, do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them. God has always voiced his displeasure when the poor are exploited. A fourth way in which the poor are oppressed is through being mocked. In Proverbs 17:5 we read, he who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker.
- THE MINISTRY TO THE POOR
What should the rich man had done differently? Every term that is used to describe this rich man accentuates his wealth. We are told that he was “dressed in purple” Not only was he dressed in the most expensive clothing, but he lived in a mansion (the Greek word refers to an ornamental portico). The very best of foods graced his table every day. He was filthy rich. And yet in the area that mattered most – his spirit, he was totally impoverished. If this rich man had read the book of Proverbs he would have learned some valuable lessons as to how he could have ministered to Lazarus. First of all, he would have learned the importance of being kind. In Proverbs 14:21 we read, he who despises his neighbour sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy. There is no hint in this parable that the rich man was cruel to Lazarus. However, he was never kind. Proverbs 19:17 says, he who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done. A second way in which we can minister to the poor is by being generous. Proverbs 22:9 is instructive, a generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor. This rich man had ignored Lazarus. He had eaten the most exotic dishes on a daily basis but remained unmoved by Lazarus’ plight. Thirdly, we can minister to the poor by being concerned about justice and speaking up on their behalf. In Proverbs 29:7 we read, the righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. This has always historically characterised Christians. William Wilberforce spoke out against the cruelty of the slave trade. George Muller was an advocate for orphans. Shaftesbury initiated sevetal social reforms that benefited the voronin london in the 19th century. Elizabeth Fry campaigned on behalf of prisoners. Hospitals were started by Christian nurses. Our country today needs similar men and women of faith who will campaign on behalf of the poor.