When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Rich Man and the Beggar

Most of our Lord's disciples were poor people. The rich were not much interested in the things which chiefly interested him. They were giving their attention to their business and their pleasure, making money and spending it. Moreover, they were quite satisfied with the world as it was, living comfortably in their pleasant houses, and dreading any change. There was still another reason why the rich did not join him. Not only were they intent upon this present life and satisfied with it, but many of them were selfish. Jesus taught that all persons should share their possessions with others. He said that if a man had two coats, he ought to give one to his neighbor who had none. But the people who had two coats did not like that, and those who had twenty coats were very angry about it.

It must be confessed that our Lord did not make it easy for the rich. One day a young man came, desiring to be one of his disciples, and the young man had great possessions. Everybody was surprised to see him, for it was as if a millionaire should propose to become a member of the Salvation Army. The man came running, filled with enthusiasm, and kneeled before our Lord, saying, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" The lawyer had asked the same question, but the young millionaire asked it in an altogether different spirit. He was deeply in earnest. Jesus said, "Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother." "Yes," answered the rich young man, "all these have I kept from my youth up." For he was as good as he was rich. Our Lord looked upon him in his youth and strength and ardor, and loved him. "All this," said the man, "have I done: what lack I yet?" And the Lord said, "Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." You see how hard it was. Our Lord did not say that to other rich men; he said it to this rich man because it was exactly what he needed. The man had never done anything bad, but, on the other hand, he had never done anything good. He had lived a perfectly proper, but a very selfish life. His only way was to break with it all, to give it all up, and come out into a totally different manner of living. But the young man rose slowly from his knees, with a long face, and turned about and went away. He felt that that was too much.

jesus and the rich young man


It was at that time that our Lord said, "How hard it is for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Not because it is wrong to be rich, nor because God likes the poor better than the rich, but because the rich are so tempted to be satisfied and selfish. One time he told a story about a rich man, and what happened after he was dead.

There were two men who were near neighbors, but in a strange way. One lived in a fine house, the other lived on the sidewalk by the gate. One was a rich man, the other was a beggar. The rich man was splendidly dressed in silks and velvets, in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. He had servants to wait upon him, and every day at breakfast and luncheon and dinner they brought him all manner of pleasant things to eat and to drink in vessels of gold and silver.

But the beggar had what was worse than nothing. It was not his fault that he was poor. Some people are poor because they are lazy, but this man was sick. His body was covered with sores. As weeks went by and he got no better, his friends felt that something must be done. Either they were so poor themselves that they could not take care of him, or else they were tired of nursing him. So one night they took him up, and carried him out, and put him down at the gate of the richest man in town. "Now," they said, "let us see; perhaps the rich man will be good to him." But there he lay, and the rich man paid no attention to him. He was so weak that he could not even keep the dogs off. The street dogs came, growling and yelping, and thrust their noses into his face and licked his sores. Some persons who passed by put money into his hand. But that did little good; what he needed was not a dime, but a doctor; he should have been taken to a hospital. Sometimes fine carriages stopped beside him at the gate, and beautiful ladies got out, taking care that their gay gowns should not brush against the beggar, and went into the house, and he could look through the lighted windows and see them sitting at dinner, while musicians played. And he wished that he had even the crumbs which fell upon the floor.

There is one visitor, however, who comes sooner or later to everybody, entering all gates, and knocking at all doors. None is so rich and none so poor but this visitor takes him by the hand. The visitor is death. So death came in due time to the rich man and to the beggar. First the beggar died, and the angels came and carried him away from all his hunger and pain into the blessed paradise above. And in paradise was a great feast, and Abraham, the father of the faithful, was at the head of the table. And do you know what they did with the beggar? They brought him in and gave him the place of honor. There he sat at Abraham's right hand. Or rather, there he lay, for that was then the fashion. They had couches instead of chairs, and the guests leaned on their left elbows. There was the beggar, then, in Abraham's bosom; that is, reclining next to Abraham.

Then the rich man died, and was buried. They had a stately funeral for him, with a long procession of mourners. The minister praised him in a sermon, and people said how much he would be missed, and what good dinners he gave, and what disposition he had made of his money. And nobody doubted for a moment but that he had gone to heaven. Some people wondered a little if he would be satisfied with Abraham's table, having always dined so well himself, but they were all sure that he was in the same good society in heaven as that which he had so adorned on earth. This, however, was a sad mistake. When the rich man opened his eyes after the sleep of death, he was in a place of torment, flames were burning all about him. He who had been rich was now miserably poor; all his treasure had been put in a bank in the town where he had lived, none of it had been laid up in heaven. He was in great pain. Among his other distresses, he was dreadfully thirsty, and not a drop of water was in reach. But across a deep ravine was a place of pleasure, cool and shadowy, with the wind blowing across it, and sweet rivers flowing down delectable mountains between flowery fields. And there was Abraham, and with him all the blessed saints at dinner. And next to Abraham, between him and Isaac, with Jacob and Joseph across the table—yes, there was the beggar who used to lie beside the rich man's gate.

The rich man had never driven the beggar from his gate. He had even given him a small coin now and then, and had let the servants feed him. Once in a while he had spoken to him. He knew that his name was Lazarus. And now the rich man cried and said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame." That was not much to ask though the rich man did not quite realize how all had changed, he being now a beggar, while Lazarus was an honored guest at Abraham's table. But Abraham said, "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence."

The judgment of God may be very different from the judgment of men: that is what our Lord meant. Some who seem to be rich are, in God's sight, poor and miserable, all their wealth being perishable, so that they cannot take it with them when they die; while some poor persons, like our Lord's poor disciples, may be rich in the best treasures, and be counted among the chief citizens of heaven. Good society, according to our Lord, is not determined by clothes, or bank-books, or birth, or manners, but by simple goodness.

Then the rich man remembered his five brothers. He had never done much for any one who was poorer than himself, but he was a good friend to his own companions, and especially to his own family. "I pray thee, father," he cried, "that thou wouldest send Lazarus to my father's house; for I have five brethren; that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment." He imagined his brothers, sitting at dinner in their beautiful dining-room, thinking of nothing but the pleasures of this life, and so making ready to enter into pain in the next life; and in comes Lazarus, straight out of the grave, with a message from heaven; and the five brothers rise up in great terror, and listen to his words, and thereafter live quite differently, sharing their wealth with the poor. But Abraham answered, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." As if he had said, "There is a church around the corner from their house, and ministers are holding services and reading the Bible and preaching there every sabbath day. The ministers are bringing messages from heaven, and warning people not to have all their treasure here below." "Nay, father Abraham," replied the rich man, "but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." But Abraham answered, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, if they mind not what is said in church and written in the Bible, nothing will help them. They will not be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."