Such argument as this seems futile but it is, nonetheless, why I keep this blog. Except I don’t normally single out another blogger to argue against. So, allow me to clarify up front, I aim to be respectful, and I will not divulge the identity of the other blog. Therefore, it is likely this other opinionater will not find me or my argument. That will avoid arguing with fools. Thus, I will take my potshots and cheap shots rather than inviting an honest debate. But you can decide for yourself whether I am a kook still. This is a bit unfair in the fullest sense, I know. But I present the other’s opinion as honestly and forthrightly as I can without exposing them on purpose for humiliation.
But here’s the thing: I found a blog which almost lifted the attitude toward the poor and needy right out of Corbett and Fikkert without showing any sign of familiarity with them. This was published by a pastor who came to dramatically similar conclusions and chose to terribly misuse the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to make his point. I don’t know where to be stunned more: a pastor’s terrible mishandling of Scripture or yet another excuse, in the guise of biblical study to mistreat the poor.
This fellow starts off strong too! He confesses he is like the rich man in some ways, that he sees the poor yet manages not to really see them. I never thought this was the affliction of the rich man in the parable, exactly, but it might be a fair way of thinking of him. He sees Lazarus suffering there, but he isn’t moved to help. Certainly, some level of this indifference is clear in the parable, though looking at Lazarus while not really seeing him with sympathy is not a stated feature. At most, it’s an incidental observation.
It’s here the blogging pastor confesses quite powerfully that he is like the rich man in just this way. And for just a moment, I sense this blogger is really on to something. It’s here he reveals too that he is a pastor, that at a time years ago, he was leading a church in a rough neighborhood where frequently needy beggars came to him seeking a handout. He gave them money, he says, even divulging amounts he sometimes parted with for the asking, and I am starting to get a little confused because he just likened himself to the rich man who did not give to Lazarus at all.
This man, presumably, is a seminary educated pastor and not one of those who sends off for a certificate from the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks. So, I am really troubled at how he has transitioned as he has. He presents himself as a giver and likens himself to the man Jesus describes as not giving. Does he think I won’t notice? How is the paster doesn’t notice this?
It’s also right about here he claims his “help” – a word he put in quotations to designate how it was not truly help at all. (I’m beginning to think it’s this diseased sense of “help” which clearly isn’t biblical that corrodes good biblical analysis. Maybe not, but I sense this is about the same place Corbett and Fikkert make their departure too.)
This already is quite a deviation, actually, from the parable the pastor speaks of. His confession has subtly morphed. When he opened claiming he saw needy people but managed it without compassion, he likened this to the rich man in the parable which was fair, though maybe a stretch. But now his confession is that actually he was giving to the needy, which is completely UNLIKE the rich man in the parable, but complicating things by saying his giving was enabling instead of “help.” (He did not use quotations for the word “enable.”)
Now… let me put a pause on my observations right there for a moment. I have said this before, many times, but lest a new reader find this (or that pastor/blogger) I concede that giving money to beggars frequently gets used in ways I too consider wasteful. In fact, if by enabling, this man means he helped a bum get a bottle of booze (a thing he never actually said), I would agree that it happens a lot. I am not naive about this.
I do not, however, see that as the big problem. So, the money is misused or abused in some way. So what? If a man asks for a few dollars and I give it, his use of it is not my business. If I give you $10 and you buy a bottle of booze, am I supposed to be worried about it? Got a verse for this when it’s you and yours misusing it? Where’s the book, the blogpost, and the advice for it in that case?
But the pastor begins describing how he made a decision not to give money anymore to such beggars, at least not routinely.
Now… let me pause again right there for another moment to say, I don’t fault him for withholding a few dollars per se. There are other gifts one might give. Especially as the pastor went on to describe how he would pray with such people, talk to them and try to get to know them. I certainly see these other things as the more important part of giving than “the money,” and so I am still cool with him to this point, all except for being a bit confused about how any of this is like the rich man in the parable.
I surely think that whether you give money or not, giving of yourself in relationship to the needy is the BETTER PART! I will question you in perhaps a dozen ways why you suddenly withhold money as some sort of personal policy. That surely sounds like discrimination to me, like your more worried about the money than the needy person. But it’s not the worst thing in the world. If a man needs to eat and you give him a sandwich, you have done right by him. If he needs to eat and you give him $5 which he uses to eat a sandwich, you have done right. If you refuse to give a man $5 simply because you don’t trust he will use it the way you deem worthy, then you are judging that man, his motives, his lifestyle and so forth even before he wastes it.
But if you invite the hungry man to eat at your table, you will finally be doing the thing the rich man in the parable failed to do, a thing Lazarus apparently, according to the parable, couldn’t hardly dream of wishing for! He merely wanted the crumbs from that table! Now THAT is part of the parable, but the pastor/blogger makes no mention of it.
If the pastor had drawn out this new best practice of sharing his table with the needy, he might have found the parable to be relevant after all to his point, but he didn’t get there either. Instead, he tells us about an interested young man in his church who stepped up to connect beggars with resources such as jobs and places to live inexpensively. This pastor obviously is enamored with his efforts to “help” without “enabling.” He even laments at how little this new help he was giving wasn’t really helping either (though he never points out that aspect of his own observations). It’s like ripping a page right out of Corbett and Fikkert.
It’s at this point, the pastor claims he is getting to “the point” of his post: He stopped putting Band-Aids on people’s cancer. (He really called it “cancer” too – using quotation marks. It’s a metaphor, I know, but truly a harsh one, I think. And then, almost plagiarizing Corbett and Fikkert, apparently unwittingly, he claims poverty isn’t really about not having money, but about the frame of mind a beggar gets into. (I presume this is the “cancer” he is talking about.) This, he claims, is the point of his whole post!
But then he returns to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to guide us through a critical study of it.
Ahhhh… Finally, we are going to get into the text! But wait… no… maybe not. Not really. He talks about the parable, but not overly critically or exegetically, mind you, since after all, he isn’t taking it at face value or exegeting it at all, but confusingly confessing how much like the rich man he is, though his own self-description is nearly a polar opposite.
Pastor then speaks of this parable as though he never read it. He actually claims the point Jesus is making in no way speaks to the money or the gift the rich man might have offered to Lazarus. He even says the parable in no way condemns the rich in favor of exalting the poor. This is truly surprising given Luke’s whole narrative goes around doing almost exactly that very thing.
He then says the tragedy of the parable is how the rich man doesn’t realize his need of God until his death. (Am I supposed to see the pastor in this light too? He did compare himself to this rich man at the beginning, but surely the pastor isn’t pasteurizing me as a person who doesn’t realize his own need of God!) Pastor tells us the rich man ignores his desperate need of God! This is the real problem in the man’s life: he doesn’t recognize his desperate need of God. Meanwhile, Pastor tells us Lazarus’s relationship with God is implied in the parable – yes, implied, not clearly stated.
Really? It’s not stated but implied? Look up the meaning of the name Lazarus and come back and tell me that.
This is a slipshod approach to the parable at best. I was so contorted by his words, I ran and looked up the parable to make sure I wasn’t wrong about it. I double checked the meaning of Lazarus’s name. Notice the rich man is not named in the parable, but the name Lazarus means God helped me. Not God “helped” me. and not God made sure not to enable me,” but just God helped me! That certainly implies a relationship. In fact, it pretty much just states it outright.
But now Pastor wants to describe what he believes is the point of the parable (not to be confused with the point of his post). He qualifies it saying it’s the point as he sees it, rather than just telling us the point of Jesus’s story, which would be far better. However, I am inclined to cut Pastor a break on this since he obviously makes no effort to exegete it. The point as he sees it is twofold. 1. Being rich might make this life easier, but it’s no guarantee of going to heaven. 2. Being poor doesn’t guarantee you have a right relationship with Jesus.
Now… pausing again, I must agree with these statements. Being rich is no ticket to heaven and neither is being poor. However, are these really the two-fold point Jesus is making?
For those of you unaware, this parable appears in Luke’s gospel chapter 16. This is the only place it appears in the Bible. Luke’s gospel very specifically sets out the story of the one Simeon describes, chapter 2, as being appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel. Mary, the mother of Jesus, in chapter 1, says “the poor will be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty.” All through Luke’s gospel, the humble (who usually are poor too) gain favor with Jesus while the proud (who frequently are rich) suffer his scorn. The exceptions prove the rule! This parable is set in the narrative where these insights are already well established!
Earlier in chapter 16, we find the parable of the unjust steward, and shortly after the telling of that one, Jesus confronts Pharisees who love wealth! While I think you can make the case that the rich man isn’t opposed by God strictly because of his wealth, you really gotta demonstrate it, because there’s precious little to go on otherwise in this parable IF YOU ACTUALLY READ IT. You have to work out that humility/pride part to get there. You really need to discuss the rich and powerful centurion in chapter 7 who humbles himself before Jesus finding rare favor for one in his position to do it. Pastor/blogger made no such effort.
The rich man in this chapter-16 parable is a proud man who doesn’t associate himself with Lazarus, shows no mercy on the poor man’s suffering, and thus, when they both die, he finds their roles almost reversed. (Rise and fall of many in Israel… anyone?) If he, being rich and powerful, not unlike the centurion in chapter 7, had humbled himself seeking the benefit of the lowly beggar, he would have found favor with God. If he had shared even the crumbs from his table with Lazarus, he might have found favor.
As for this whole enabling angle, shortly after this parable is told, in chapter 17, Jesus heals ten lepers yet only one thanks him for it. It is alarming to Jesus too, but Jesus in no way acts like healing the other nine was some mistake. While this point is not about giving money, per se, it nonetheless jives, I think. After all, in chapter 6, Jesus said, “Give to all who ask,” and in no way outlined how the giving of money would be wrong or “enabling.”
This blog I read was an astounding exercise in making the Bible say anything you want. This pastor started off strong, so it seemed. He sounded confessional, but then twisted his way into the parable of the rich man and Lazarus only to twist that parable out of its shape.
He did at least go to the Bible to make his point, but he didn’t really listen to the Bible once there.
I don’t wish to argue with this person or shame them. I don’t think I am smarter or better than this pastor. But he did write THIS post as a PASTOR, and I expect better excellence from a shepherd. I am troubled since I believe the real point of the post, not the one actually stated, is to tell people not to help the needy too much or in some wrong way.
Why? Why would that be the point?
What actual need is there of this caution?
I suspect it is a smokescreen, really, a way to comfort the comforted when they are disturbed by their own wealth in the face of poverty – whether that be a mentality or a lack of material possessions. If that is the case, this man’s twisting of the parable in his post is making it say nearly the polar opposite of its real point. It’s conscience salve, a self-justification. I say it is all the more dangerous because the pastor makes the claim to be a pastor and twists a passage of scripture which, in reality, obviously has to do with the selfishness of the rich man in the face of Lazarus’s need.
While the pastor/blogger claims he offers prayer and friendship with beggars, he winds up downplaying that part in the bigger picture. It barely gets passing mention before being abandoned completely. I wish he had worked that part out more. I expect, if he found real value in it, he would have wound up exploring shared meals with the needy as integral to his getting to know them, in showing his care for them, AND would have taken one of the logical elements of the parable he chose to explicate to a new point which would bear up powerfully in the love of Christ.
Rarely is the giving of $5 or $20 life-changing for the poor for good or ill. The sharing of our time, our lives, our meals and so forth though has tremendous power to change the lives of the poor for good. The cash is incidental. IF the pastor had taken his post in that direction, I would have been impressed. As it is, he misleads us to keep our money and tries to make us feel good about it.
This is all the more tragic since he opened by confessing, he sees the poor without really seeing them. His misuse of the parable cements him in that problem.