What is most striking about the rich man and Lazarus is not their differences but their similarities (Luke 16:19–31). Both men die because both men are sinners, and the wages of sin is death. Both men are beggars, for all men are beggars. But, here is where the most striking difference between them takes shape. Lazarus knows it and lives it. The rich man, however, does not.
Lazarus was a beggar in thought, word, and deed. But, he was God’s beggar. He relied upon God for all that he had and all that he was. He looked to God for all things, in good times and in bad. He went to God in all trouble, sought Him for all help, and trusted in His Word and promises to provide for all that he needed for this life and the next. This is, after all, what his name means: God is my help.
The rich man, too, was a beggar. But he didn’t realize it. His status, his wealth, his clothing and his food all came from God’s gracious hand. But the rich man didn’t recognize it. He thought he had earned it, and that he deserved it. And thus, his trust is not in God, who by His Word and promise gives it, but rather in himself, in what he has done, and in what he has.
And so it is that when death comes to Lazarus and the rich man—as it does for all of us because we have all sinned, and death is no respecter of persons—Lazarus is carried by the holy angels to Abraham’s side; while the rich man is in torment in hell. The rich man forgot God. He despised being a beggar, and thus, despised Lazarus. He despised God and His Word, and refused to have mercy on those whom God placed at his doorstep.
Now, the tables were turned. What the rich man didn’t realize or recognize on earth, he now lived out in torment in hell. He knew what it was to beg. But he still didn’t see himself as a beggar of God. He still didn’t look to His Father in heaven for all good and help in every time of need. He instead appealed to His status as a descendant of Abraham, calling out Father Abraham and not “Abba, Father” (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15).
We are all beggars. We brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it (1 Tim 6:7). Everything we have and everything we are comes from God’s fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us, for He gives everything to us by grace. Thus, we are to love one another and be generous to one another in thought, word, and deed. For you cannot love God and hate your brother. And hating your brother means not to forgive as you’ve been forgiven, to give as you’ve been given to, to love as you’ve been loved.
We are all beggars. This is true. But we, like Lazarus, are God’s beggars. He not only gives us what we need for this body and life—food and clothes, house and home, husband, wife, and children—but He also blesses us with His Word and Spirit, so that we will enter into paradise in the life to come. He claims us as His own by water and the Word in Holy Baptism. In this washing, rich in grace, He gives to us what His Son, Jesus Christ, won for us on His cross: forgiveness of sins. And where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. He puts His own name on us, thereby giving to us the right of children, the right to call Him Father and the right to His inheritance as His beloved sons. He gives us a seat at His table, in His house, in His kingdom, which has no end.
Yes, indeed, we are beggars. This is true. But we are beggars of the God who loves us, the God who created us from His love, the God who redeemed us by His love in the sending of His Son to die so that we would live and have life to the full. This is His promise. It’s what Moses and the prophets longed to see and of what they spoke. They see it now, not in a mirror dimly, but face to face, just as you shall on the last day.
And as God’s beggars, we have mercy on those who would be beggars of us, who rely upon our giving, even as we rely upon the gracious giving of God. We give to our family, our society, our church. He gives; we receive. Thanks be to God. We give; they receive. Thanks be to God. We count it all a joy to give as He has given to us.