Tragically, unbelief makes a lot of beautiful things invisible.
Ever since the H.G. Wells novel The Invisible Man, we’ve toyed with the idea of invisibility. The pursuit of cloaking technology has included light-bending experiments, special types of glass, and a lot of theory, but it looks as if there are hard physical restrictions on becoming see-through. We’ve failed at making ourselves invisible.
In the meantime though, we’ve always been good at making others invisible.
Jesus told the story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man partied and wore luxurious clothes. Everyday he ignored Lazarus, who languished at his gate hoping to receive some table scraps. Lazarus was no casual panhandler, either. He was covered with sores, and obviously starving.
Eventually, both men died. Lazarus was carried off by the angels and rested with Abraham. But the rich man writhed in torment in hades, and was in misery. At first he begged Abraham to send Lazarus to give him a drop of water on his tongue. When Abraham replied and told the man it couldn’t happen, then the man asked for Abraham to send Lazarus,
“‘for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Lk. 16:28-31).
Having read this story, the common takeaway is that the rich are evil and will perish, while those who are poor will be saved. But that interpretation sees salvation as being based on economic class. It is both simplistic and wrong. We forget that there is such a thing as the evil poor. And though salvation comes with difficulty to the affluent of this world, it is not impossible for God to save them.
Which brings us to the most neglected part of the story—its ending. As quoted above, Abraham said that the basic failure of the rich man, and what led to his fate, was his refusal to believe what the Bible said, and to repent. In particular, there are two great commandments the rich are prone to ignore, the first being:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5).
Devotion of this sort, especially to the financially prominent, is potentially threatening. Earthly riches need to be babysat carefully like the love of one’s life, lest they be lost through foolishness or swindlers. Besides, they would reason, Moses was commendable as a holy man, but did not seem to possess an understanding of market volatility. He sounds unrealistic, and idealistic, if not fanatical. Love God however you wish, and leave the extremes of a verse such as this to the religiously naive.
And so, just that fast, God vanishes from the verse, but something must take His place. We must love something with all our heart, soul, and might. To the rich man in the story, it was his wealth.
The rich man also ignored the second great commandment: “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Lev. 19:18). Failure to do this meant a certain internal blindness had set in concerning the plight of others. Though we might argue as to who constitutes being a neighbor, the failure of certain faceless social programs, etc., it would have been hard for the rich man to justify himself in the matter, for Lazarus laid in his very gate, obviously sick and destitute. The rich man even knew his name. Yet to him, not only God, but Lazarus had become practically invisible.
Condemnation therefore came not for failing to rescue all the poor, but for failing only one among their number. God never expected a single person, however wealthy, to eradicate poverty and change the economic imbalances of the whole world. Instead, He had placed one pathetic soul in the path of that rich man.
Why couldn’t the man “see” Lazarus? We assume his love of money was the culprit, and no doubt to some extent it was. But the real source of the problem was rooted in the fact that he wouldn’t believe the Word. Even if he been dirt poor himself the result would have been the same. Once we refuse the Word, both God and neighbor disappear.
‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
It’s a warning to us down through the ages. There’s an inside line between hearing the Word, seeing God, seeing our neighbor, and finally, yes, seeing the resurrected Christ.