A good end and not-so-good means

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The story of the unnamed rich fellow and a poor man named Lazarus in the New Testament (Luke 16: 19-31) gives me much to meditate upon. There are some who insist that the whole purpose of life is eternity – heaven or hell – claiming that Jesus taught more about hell than about any other topic and using this story as one example in support of the claim.

Jesus’ use of the illustration is to teach a lesson beyond eternity.

Why was the rich fellow in hell after he died? Is it because he “dressed in purple (the color of royalty) and fine linen and lived in luxury every day”? Certainly not. It is actually a mistake to blindly attach to this story Paul’s words to Timothy about money and evil (“the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” – 1 Timothy 6: 10).

There is nothing wrong with being rich and dressing in purple and fine linen and dining in luxury. All of that is actually a blessing. What is wrong is the relationship one has with riches and those around us.

Indeed we are not told that the rich man abused Lazarus. He did not even have him removed from his gate – which he could have done. The picture we get though, is that he did not care about him and his state. As far as he was concerned, Lazarus probably did

not even exist. He was callous.

That is the lesson I get from Jesus’ teaching in this illustration. It is not what the rich man did but what he did not do that got him ending up where he did. He was so immersed in his riches and lifestyle of luxury that  the poor man at his gate was non-existent.

While eternity is very important  the journey there is equally important: How we journey with our fellow sojourners. In other words, the end is important and the means there is equally important, or as Jewish wisdom affirms, a good end cannot justify not-so-good means (Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah 21b).

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