Showing posts with label parable. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parable. Show all posts
Thursday, February 13, 2014 1 comments

Adversity and the Parable of the Microchip
My husband had a really good parable that he shared with me today when I was having a hard time.   Just to give you some background on what he does, he’s a test engineer for company called Microchip and he writes programs that tests chips to make sure they work according to specifications.

He compared how the circuits in microchips are made in the factory to how the Lord uses adversity to shape and mold us.  

In the factory, circuits are made in layers.  A layer of material is laid down, and then a layer of semi-conductive material is put down on top of that.  Then, a circuit pattern is laid on the material with photoresist, and the circuit-in-progress is put into an acid bath and the acid eats away everything that isn’t part of the pattern.  Multiple layers of circuit are added in this same basic way, over and over again until the whole chip is formed.

The things the Lord asks us to do are like that circuit pattern laid down.  Adversity is like the acid bath; it is designed to etch away from our lives everything that doesn’t belong in the pattern.   If we aren’t obedient, or if we neglect parts of the pattern, then the circuit of our lives is incomplete and will fail. 

UNLIKE microchips, it is wonderful for us that we have the atonement that makes it possible for us to undo errors and do things right so that we aren’t thrown away when we fail.
Friday, November 22, 2013 0 comments

The Holy Ghost is like…

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
I think here Jesus is trying to teach about how the witness and feelings of the Spirit come at unexpected times to people who are born again.  It is something you feel and enjoy, but you don’t control it.  It just comes on its own.

This made me wonder what other parables we could make to teach about how the Spirit works, so I decided to try to write my own, with the limited knowledge I have. 

The Spirit is easily driven away by thoughtless, hostile acts.  It is like a flock of birds on a lawn.  When someone walks by, if they merely turn their head and look, the birds may be frightened away.

When bad things and misfortunes come upon you, the Spirit’s comfort is like learning some secret good news that fills you up and keeps sadness at bay.

Suppose an invisible hand planted the seed of that fruit tree you really want in your yard.  You never knew you could have it (or even knew that you might want it) until you discover it is there and you are told what it is.  That’s what it is like to have the Spirit move you to develop a particular virtue.

The Spirit is like a small, shy child that pulls at the hem of your shirt until you give it your attention.

Suppose you owned the actual video footage of Christ’s life, mission, crucifixion, resurrection, etc. and all of the events of the Restoration, yet you had never actually watched it.  That’s what having the Spirit’s witness is like.

Okay, now it’s your turn to make up some parables about how the Spirit works in your life.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 4 comments

New Perspective on the Parable of the Talents

We often think of the parable of the pounds and the parable of the talents to be talking about our abilities or skills, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more to it that I had been missing.  Somehow it just seemed too easy an explanation, and it didn’t seem to fit a number of parts of the parables.

We don’t often get to examine these parables together, so it might helps us to read them together to see differences and similarities.

Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30)
Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27)
14 ¶For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country,
11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.
 12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
 15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
 16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
 17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
 18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.
14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.
19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
15 And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
 20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 16 Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.
 17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.

22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
 23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 18 And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.
 19 And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.

24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
 20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:
 21 For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.

 26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant,
thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

 22 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.
Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:
 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers,
and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
 23 Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank,
that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?

28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

24 And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.
 25 (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)
 29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:
but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
 26 For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given;
and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

Some ways that the talents/pounds don’t seem to fit the usual interpretation of abilities is in the following points:
--In the parable of the pounds, the servants are given the pounds equally and the citizens of the place (who don’t want the lord to rule over them) are given nothing.  Can we really say that only citizens of the kingdom of God are given skills and no one else?  You might say, “Well then, it could be spiritual gifts.”  Okay.  I will grant that.  We’ll see where it takes us.
--In both parables, the lord gives his servants these sums of money to do business with and increase.  The servants do not have any notion that the money belongs to them.  I could be wrong, but I don’t really get the feeling that they get to keep this money at the end either; it goes back to the lord’s possession.  Yet don’t we expect to keep the skills and abilities and spiritual gifts we’ve gained in eternity?  Yes, we do.  So I don’t know that skills is the best fit for an interpretation.
--The slothful servant gives the excuse that he thought the lord was a hard man.  It doesn’t make sense that thinking the Lord is strict and austere would prevent someone from developing their talents or even spiritual gifts.
--The slothful servant gives the excuse that he thought the lord reaped where he hadn’t sowed, so was afraid to venture use of the sum given.  This doesn’t make sense in the context of talents and gifts because just about everyone knows that you don’t increase your skills (or even your spiritual gifts) without practicing them. 

Something I like about the parable of the pounds is it shows there was a definite reward for faithfulness proportional to the gain made.  The faithful servants were given cities to rule over, whereas in the parable of the talents they were told they would be rulers over many things (indefinite) and invited to “enter thou into the joy of thy lord,” which sounds lovely only if you know what that joy is…. and I don’t think we really do.  At worst, the invitation to enter the joy of the lord sounds empty and dismissive.  And if the parables only talk about abilities and skills, then it is hard to conceive that there might be joy to anticipate beyond the joy of mastery we feel in the process of development here in mortality. 

We might ask ourselves some questions about these parables to see if we might learn more clearly what they represent.

Where is the greatest emphasis put in these stories?  Less is said on how the servants gained greater profit, but on the judgment process.  So somehow there is something about the judgment process that Jesus really wants us to understand.

But to understand the judgment, we still have to ask about the talents and pounds.  What is it that Jesus really wants us to increase?  It can’t really be money because elsewhere Jesus comes down really hard on the rich.  It is something that belongs to Jesus although He gives it to others to take care of.  It is something that can be traded with and gained.  It is something that can be hid, something that can be handed over to others in an organization for their labor to increase.  It is something that Jesus is very pleased when it increases, whether it increases a lot or a little.  It also has to be something the trading of which scares some people and makes them think that its gain comes magically, almost without effort, yet which other people put their whole efforts into increasing.  Quite a riddle, yes?

I begin to think that this parable is talking about missionary work. 

Think about it--what would Jesus consider more valuable than the worth of a soul?  Don’t our souls and salvation really belong to Him?  And what more important work can we do while He is away than to trade doctrine and win more souls to Christ?  And won’t we be excited to tell Him when He returns that we were able to gather more souls for Him? 

We see then why the Lord invites His faithful servants to “enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” 

15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me! (D&C 18:15-16)

The Lord is joyous when He sees those to whom He delegated responsibility gain converts for the kingdom.  Those servants who help convert then get to see the people they taught go out and teach others, so they experience the same joy the Lord does.  It is the joy of seeing the work take on a life of its own and bring greater success to the cause of Christ.

Now, what about the servant who hid his talent?  How do his excuses fit into the interpretation of doing missionary work?

“thou art an hard man”/”thou art an austere man” – This servant thought the doctrine of Christ would make everyone think Christ was too strict in His requirements.  And the servant thought this because deep down he himself thought his master was too strict.

“thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow”/”gathering where thou hast not strawed” – The servant really had no idea how the lord’s business was done.  It looked like magic to him.  In terms of missionary work, to those of us ignorant of how to do it successfully, it similarly looks like magic.  Where do all those converts come from?  When conversions happen easily they really look like magic!  When they happen with great difficulty, they seem totally impossible!  (I confess that this has often been my view of it, so clearly I have to repent..)

“I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: low, there thou hast that is thine.” – When the servant doesn’t know how the real business is run, it is really scary to try anything.  It is easier to just do nothing.  Likewise, in missionary work, if you don’t know how it is best done, it is scary to talk to people about the church.  It is easier to just say nothing and focus on just staying faithful.

The lord castigates the servant for not even doing something as simple as putting the money in the bank so that interest could be earned on it.  What might be the equivalent in terms of missionary work?  Probably temple work.  If you can’t bear to do missionary work, at the very least spend lots of time in the temple so that you can have a part in the salvation of the dead, who are being taught the gospel in the spirit world!  It may also be the equivalent of partnering with someone else to do missionary work, so the burden isn’t totally on you. 

That the lord takes away the talent/pound of the slothful servant should remind us how important to our own salvation it is to stand as witnesses of Christ.  We are told elsewhere that if we are ashamed to confess Him before men, He will be ashamed of us, and those who try to save their lives will lose it.  The business of sharing the gospel is necessary for keeping our own salvation.

In the parable of the talents, the slothful servant is called “unprofitable,” which implies that the other servants were actually profitable to their lord.  This is unexpected since in other places we are told that we are all unprofitable servants.  I think it is safe to say that in terms of missionary work, we can be profitable servants if we bring at least one other soul to Christ besides our own while laboring all our days. 

So how does the idea of profiting by trade fit with doing missionary work?  The servants actually don’t trade their salvation to get converts; instead they display the benefits and offer it to others, like a vendor at an open market. 

In the parable of the talents, the servants are given differing amounts, and the faithful servants double their capital, while in the parable of the pounds, all the servants are given the same amount and they increase it by differing percentages.  What are we to make of the differences between the parables in the initial amounts that the servants are given?  It may be that the parable of the talents with the differing initial amounts further expresses callings of teaching and leadership in the church, with responsibility given for the salvation of other souls.  It is also possible that having two parables with this difference better shows us that the amounts we start with don’t matter as much as what we do with them.  Just think, if we only had the parable of the talents, we might be inclined to think that the slothful servant thought that he couldn’t do anything because he was given so little to begin with.  But with the parable of the pounds in which all the servants start with the same amount, we see that in some respect, the amount we start with is sufficient to do great things. 

Also, without both the parable of the talents and the parable of the pounds, we wouldn’t get to see the full picture of the Lord’s fairness in judgment.  In the parable of the talents we see that even if people who start out at different levels but still make a profit at the same percentage, they are treated equal to each other because the effort was the same.  In the parable of the pounds, we see that of people who start out at the same level, if one gains more than another, his reward is greater.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 2 comments

The Mustard Seed: Kingdom of God and Word of God

30 ¶And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it?
 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth:
 32 But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it. (Mark 4:30-32)

This parable comes in the same chapter as the parable of the sower (seed in 4 different kinds of ground) and the parable of the seed growing secretly.  Previous to this I’ve only looked at this parable by taking it at face value—the kingdom of God = a grain of mustard seed.  But recently, I looked at it in context with the other parables around it which also involved planting seeds, and I thought, “What if in this parable the mustard seed = the word?”  (I'm not suggesting that this is the real interpretation; rather, I thought it might be interesting to see what else I might learn if I started from this assumption rather than the assumption that the seed = kingdom of God.)

If we assume seed means the word of God, we can see why a mustard seed would be used.  Mustard seed is so small.  You’d think the plant that would grow from it would be small too.  In the same way, the word of God, when heard with the carnal ears, seems unbelievable and easily dismissable.  It seems like it would never have any real effect on someone, or carry the least weight of all the things you could say.  But when the word of God is heard with the spiritual ears and nurtured, it grows into action and it becomes the thing that has the greatest effect in a person’s life.  It is productive of all sorts of good works to an extent that aren’t possible otherwise.
Thursday, February 7, 2013 0 comments

Lost diamond, lost coin

Elle's Notebook,, Oct 10, 2012
Last weekend at the grocery store, the cashier ringing up my groceries tried over the phone to get one of her coworkers to help her look for a diamond from her ring that she had lost, since she was on duty and couldn’t look for it herself.   When she got off the phone, I asked her about it and she told me it was her best diamond.  I looked at the line behind me and it seemed like she wouldn’t get to search for her diamond for a while.

As I put my groceries in my car, I couldn’t stop thinking about her, so I went back and offered to help her search, but she didn’t know where in the store she had lost it.  “I’ve been all over the place in the store!  I don’t know where to look!” she said.  The idea flashed into my mind that she could ask for one of those big long broom pads that are slid around the floor to be used to sweep the store and then look through the pile picked up by it.   My idea seemed to give her some hope and she thanked me for it, saying she hadn’t been sure what to do or where to look.

As I drove away, I thought of Jesus’s parable of the lost coin:

Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? (Luke 15:8)

I thought about that parable and it seemed to me that we don’t often understand the woman’s anxiety to find her coin.  After all, our coins aren’t worth very much.  But what if we modernized the parable, making it about a woman with 10 diamonds in a ring, who had lost one?  Then we’d understand the sense of purpose she had and the care she took to search out that lost diamond.  A diamond might be a better analogy today for the worth of a soul.  

Can you better imagine yourself wanting to look for lost souls if you think of them as lost diamonds instead lost coins?   I can.
Sunday, July 1, 2012 1 comments

The parable of the humiliated guest

7 ¶And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them,
8 When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him;
9 And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room.
10 But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee.
11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Luke 14:7-11)

 This parable of Jesus’s has no explanation attached, which probably means that it was so plain and clear to those it was given to that it seemed to need no explanation.  It says humble yourself so that you don’t get humiliated when someone is preferred and honored above you.  If it weren’t that the text tells us that Jesus was speaking a parable, we probably wouldn’t know it as a parable.  We’d think it was just a commandment.

But I found there are still some things to learn from this parable if we look at it from an eternal perspective.  The invitation to the wedding is the invitation to eternal life and membership in God’s kingdom.  It seems God’s kingdom has higher and lower rooms.  The host is Christ Himself.  It seems that there may be some jockeying for the “good spots” before the host comes and the celebration starts.

When Christ speaks of the host moving guests higher or lower between the rooms, He speaks of the final judgment when every man’s works will be known and rewarded according to whether they are good or evil.  These guests at the wedding feast are good; they are the ones who listened to the invitation.  (Later in the same chapter Christ will give the parable about those who refuse the invitation to the wedding feast.)  But the guests at this wedding feast are sorted according to the honor they are worthy of (which we can surmise comes from the faithfulness they demonstrated) and each receives honor accordingly. 

So we see plainly how presumptuous it would be to expect the highest honors at the very beginning for just having responded to the invitation.  We really don’t know how much honor we are worthy of or how to rate our claims in comparison to each other.  The host hasn’t arrived yet, and the host is the one best able to tell the degree to which each person is worthy of honor.   We just know we will receive honor, so it is best to rate your claims low at the beginning.

From this perspective, we learn that it is best for us not to exalt ourselves for our faithfulness, since there may always be someone else who rates more faithful than us.  I personally have learned not to underestimate the faithfulness of my fellow Saints.  When I begin to overestimate my faithfulness, it doesn’t take long before I learn the story of someone else who has faithfully made it through tribulations I never dreamed existed.  Then I feel like saying, “Well, you’re in a higher room than me..” and I want to hide my face in shame.

I have faith that if we avoid exalting ourselves, at some point when the Lord comes, He will take us higher. Will we be in the highest room with the greatest honors?  That’s an interesting question, and it is particularly pertinent to us as Latter-day Saints, especially since we have a revelation to Joseph Smith in D&C 131 that we must enter into the covenant of eternal marriage to obtain the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.  Those of us who have married in the temple are liable to be complacent about our place in the celestial kingdom, but I leave it to you to decide whether humility is necessary for a good marriage relationship or not.

Humility is really hard to define, so I thought I’d include some quotations from BrainyQuote on humility that I find instructive.

True humility is intelligent self respect which keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves. It makes us modest by reminding us how far we have come short of what we can be.  (Ralph W. Sockman)
Humility is nothing else but a right judgment of ourselves.  (William Law)
Judge yourself; if you do that you will not be judged by God, as St. Paul says. But it must be a real sense of your own sinfulness, not an artificial humility.  (Johannes Tauler)
Assuredly, Loving Souls, you should go to God with all humility and respect, humbling yourselves in His presence, especially when you remember your past ingratitude and sins.  (Alphonsus Liguori)
In such a state, humility is the virtue of men, and their only defense; to walk humbly with God, never doubting, whatever befall, that His will is good, and that His law is right.  (Paul Elmer More)
To be a preacher requires two apparently contradictory qualities: confidence and humility. (Timothy Radcliffe)

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.  (Rick Warren)
There is no respect for others without humility in one's self.  (Henri Frederic Amiel)
Humility is attentive patience.  (Simone Weil)

A sarcastic person has a superiority complex that can be cured only by the honesty of humility. (Lawrence G. Lovasik)
Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.  (Jane Austen)
The proud man can learn humility, but he will be proud of it. (Mignon McLaughlin)
Tell him, on the contrary, that he needs, in the interest of his own happiness, to walk in the path of humility and self-control, and he will be indifferent, or even actively resentful. (Irving Babbitt)

When someone saves your life and gives you life, there's gratitude, humility; there's a time you've been so blessed you realize you've been given another chance at life that maybe you did or didn't deserve. (Pat Summerall)
And when our baby stirs and struggles to be born it compels humility: what we began is now its own. (Margaret Mead)

 Humility is really important because it keeps you fresh and new.  (Steven Tyler)
Humility is the only true wisdom by which we prepare our minds for all the possible changes of life. (George Arliss)
If we learn not humility, we learn nothing. (John Jewel)
The job is to ask questions-it always was-and to ask them as inexorably as I can. And to face the absence of precise answers with a certain humility.  (Arthur Miller)
Real genius is nothing else but the supernatural virtue of humility in the domain of thought. (Simone Weil)
Fullness of knowledge always means some understanding of the depths of our ignorance; and that is always conducive to humility and reverence. (Robert Millikan)

If one takes pride in one's craft, you won't let a good thing die. Risking it through not pushing hard enough is not a humility.  (Paul Keating)
I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humility.  (John Ruskin)
Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.  (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

What are your thoughts about humility?
Sunday, May 27, 2012 5 comments

Lessons from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is one that can be really uncomfortable, and it is easy to want to forget it as quickly as possible or else ignore it completely, but there are important things to learn from it.

19 ¶There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (Luke 16:19-21)

Lazarus is in such abject poverty that he is acting like a dog, waiting for leftovers.  That image of dogs licking his sores is really disturbing and makes it clear just how wrong it is for humans to be in that kind of condition.  He is considered a second-class person.  This is like the story of the Good Samaritan, but unfortunately it doesn’t end happily while in mortality. 

 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
 24 And he 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. (Luke 16:22-24)

The positions of Lazarus and the rich man have been precisely reversed.  The want the rich man ignored in Lazarus, he begins to suffer.  Unlike Lazarus, who merely desired to feed from the leftovers—Lazarus’s sense of his own worthiness had been beat down under the ground you see—in contrast, the rich man kicks up a serious rumpus and takes his complaint as high as he can.  “Have mercy!  Can’t you see I am tormented!?” he cries to Abraham, who is often considered father of the faithful.  (By the way, it is interesting that the rich man recognizes Abraham, even from afar off, though having never met him in mortality.  What does this teach us about what we will know after death?)

It is also curious that when the rich man finds himself in hell, he discovers he is thirsty.  He has no body, yet he is thirsty.  This suggests to me that his thirst is actually spiritual rather than physical.  I think that his thirst may represent the desire to do good that he squelched all his life.   In the eternities he finds the thirst still there, but with no way of satisfying it; all his wealth has been left behind in mortality.  This reminds me of Isaiah’s words that everyone who fought against Zion would be as those who dreamt they drank and then awake thirsty.

Another thing I noticed recently in this parable is even after death, the rich man still thinks of Lazarus as a second-class person and only meant to be a servant.  We can tell because the rich man only talks to Father Abraham to ask for things, not Lazarus, implying he assumes Lazarus is only there on Abraham’s sufferance, rather than as an equal in Abraham’s estimation.  Also, the rich man wants Lazarus to be sent to serve and comfort him.

This gives us an important warning—that riches have a tendency to cause people to forget the inherent equality of each soul’s worth, and that mistake continues beyond death. 

 25 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. (Luke 16:25)

The positions of Lazarus and the rich man have been reversed because there is a huge amount of inequitable treatment that happened on earth that has to be made right.  Heaven is fair after all, and unfairness on earth, if never remedied on earth, must be remedied in heaven.

 26 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. (Luke 16:26)

In mortality there was no obstacle standing in the way of the rich man helping Lazarus.  There was no gulf between them, but the rich man made one by completely ignoring Lazarus’s existence.  Might it be too much to say that by doing so, rich man made the very gulf that in the afterlife prevented any comfort coming to him?

 27 Then he [the rich man] said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house:
 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. (Luke 16:27-28)

We see that when the rich man begins to suffer, his sympathy and feeling for others begins to grow and he begins to wish to save others from suffering what he is currently in.  For him that’s a start, even though his anxiety for others only extends at this point to his five brothers who still live in as rich abundance as he did.  (This shows that concern for our siblings is the beginning of charity.)

But at the same time, the rich man still doesn’t understand what he’s doing wrong; he still wants to send Lazarus hither and yon, if not to serve him, then to serve his rich brothers, not realizing how fully things have changed. 

 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (Luke 16: 9-31)

Abraham shares the principle that unless people already listen to the witnesses they have in this life in the form of the writings of prophets and the words of living oracles of God about helping the poor, no heavenly messenger can do any good in sharing what conditions are like on the other side and what needs to be done to prepare.  If the rich man still didn’t recognize Lazarus’s equality of worth in heaven, no way would his brothers on earth heed any message from Lazarus, if their perception of Lazarus was anything like the rich man’s.

I think this is a warning for me too; if I don’t pay attention to this account or the other scriptures about building Zion and helping others, no angelic visitation that warns will move me either.  I'm not rich, but come on, how rich do we have to be before we feel obligated to help?

Now, we might not have starving sore-ridden people laying at our driveways, but we will know people in need when we see them.

One of my friends told me she learned that one of her classmates didn’t have enough money to buy the book for the class because she barely even had money to buy food.  This friend of mine was shocked, and rather than ignore it, decided to take action.  Although my friend couldn’t spare much money herself, she decided she wanted to anonymously send some money to her classmate.  She asked the major’s administrator for her classmate’s address, and when the administrator found out what for, she made an exception to the privacy rules, on condition that the teacher also be notified.  My friend’s teacher was surprised to learn about such want among one of his students and gave a textbook to the classmate.  My friend heard later that a scholarship was spontaneously bestowed upon her classmate not long afterward, and she gave it as her opinion that the teacher had been behind that.

I’ve tried to help when I have seen needs, but I still feel I have done less than I should have.

Here are some thoughts from other Christian writers about the meaning of this parable:

"This parable targets the violence of apathy and neglect which is widening the chasm between rich and poor. The trouble is that even such abstractions [of “rich” and “poor”] become easy to live with.  We need some first hand experience of encountering the real people whom we will then not be able to dismiss as relative statistics. And if that cannot be first hand, we need to help people engage in active imagination of what it really means to be poor, to be a refugee, to be caught on the wrong side of the chasms…" ("First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 18, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia. [])

One way we engage in active imagination of what it really means to be poor and hungry is when we fast.  Our experience with hunger can guide our giving.

"If our hearts are closed to hearing the cry for justice, mercy and bread, the words of the resurrected One will not be convincing, but convicting." ("No Way Out," Mark Harris, The Christian Century, 2001. Religion Online. [])

 “The greatest deception is that people start to believe they are owed a privileged status.  They actually think they are exceptional and believe that they have become more valuable because they have more valuables.”  ("The Man Who Wore Purple and Linen," Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach. [])

Some chasms cannot be crossed. Some things harden…. Even Abraham cuts no ice with a God determined to be just.”  ("Send Lazarus," J. Mary Luti, The Christian Century, 1998. [])

"We would do well, I believe, to explore those things which our culture highly esteems, and then to consider whether or not these things are well pleasing in the sight of God." ("The Rich Man and Lazarus," Hampton Keathley IV, a study from the Biblical Studies Foundation. [])

What inner obstacles do you struggle with when you are confronted with people in desperate need?  How have you overcome them?