Who is the nameless rich man in the parable? Is it you? (2023)

"There was a rich man, clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day." Luke 16:19

Who is the nameless rich man in the parable? Is it you? (1)

The Parable of the Rich Man and the Beggar Lazarus, 1615. Found in the Collection of Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava. Artist Francken, Frans, the younger (1581-1642). (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Here's an image to think about.

You wake up in the middle of winter in a freezing cold room with a crying baby in need of a diaper change. You live in a two-bedroom concrete apartment that currently has no hot water or heating, with your extended family, who take turns drying the baby's wet clothes on their backs, because their bodies are the only source of heat in the house, besides the stove, for you just bought an expensive propane tank. But you need that for cooking. The windows are made of wood and allow a good flow of air from outside. There is no dishwasher, no dryer, no disposable diapers, no washing machine except for your own hands, only occasional heating and hot water. Baby formula is hard to find and you can forget breast pumps or bottles. The market just doesn't have them yet. They use mason jars.

You get up and get dressed, walk to your car to go to work. But it's old, it won't start. You have to fix it before you go. You don't have a cell phone to call work, so all you have to do is explain to your boss why you were late and hope he doesn't fire you. They are paid around $100 a month and the wife is not currently working as what she would earn would not meet the needs of the baby at home. Worrying about what you're going to eat tomorrow is a reality. But you're resourceful, and your family somehow hasn't gone hungry yet. You can work and your boss won't fire you. They come back from work and the family is healthy and full. It's finally getting hot. The baby is sleeping. The car didn't break down on the way home. Lo and behold! There is hot water. you can shower Today was a good day. You are poor. But you are blessed. You are happy.

Here is another portrait of life.

You wake up in your warm apartment. It snowed. You wouldn't know if you didn't look out the window. Inside is nice and cosy. You go into the kitchen in your pajamas and unload the dishwasher that has been busy working for you in the middle of the night. You drink your hot coffee from the Keurig. You take a hot shower. They live alone or maybe have a small family, not an extended family, just the nuclear version. You may visit your family at Christmas and the holidays. They can sometimes be a bit much, so going on vacation is enough.

You go to the garage where your car is and drive to work without any problems. Traffic is a bit bad and it annoys you that it takes you 10 minutes more to get to work. But you write to your boss and he understands. He's stuck in traffic too. You finish a day's work paying a typical American wage, maybe a few thousand dollars a month. You come home and relax, maybe watch some Netflix, put in a load of laundry, order takeout, and complain about politics, the weather, or your rich neighbor who's in a foreign country for the umpteenth time this month Is on the way. Or maybe you sit down and calmly count your blessings?

This first story described a day in my father's life during my childhood in post-communist Romania. But don't be fooled. He was happy. We all were. My childhood was filled with magic and wonder and I lacked for nothing...as far as I knew. But you wouldn't guess it from the outside. And to this day there are many who live like this or with even less all over the world.

The second story was a general description of most Americans' lives right now. You have a dishwasher, dryer, working car, laptop, heating, groceries galore, security for your person and family, running water, electricity. You, my friend, are rich. And now that I live here and there, so am I.

Yet when Jesus spoke the parable about the rich man and Lazarus, he was speaking of someone living a life closer to post-communist Romania than to normal America today. Ancient kings could not imagine the luxury and abundance that human innovation and free market exchange would bring us. All of us who live "normal American life" are rich beyond historical and even modern comparison.

While life in Romania may have changed for the better, it still doesn't compare to the US and its waste in terms of wages, market and technology. And we're not even talking about an undeveloped country where life looks different.

So it's not your friend who owns a Mercedes and collects vacations who is rich. You're. They may have more than you, but you have so much yourself. your life is simple You don't have to survive. You have the luxury of being able to express yourself. The diseases of your aging will be ailments likely to be easily treatable by modern medicine - not deficiencies that might shorten your life in a less developed society.

But take it from someone who has lived on the other side and yet been very fortunate: luxury (because that's what they say) is deceptive. It's a fair weather friend. It's dangerous...if you're not aware of it. Strange, isn't it? If you live in poverty and you are not aware of it, you can be very happy. But if you live in luxury and are not aware of it, you can be very unhappy.

Poor Lazarus had a name, but nobody knows the rich man. He is only known for his social status.

One's identity can be so tied to the things one has or the comforts one enjoys that its essence melts away. It's not being rich, that's the problem. The danger is letting one's identity dissolve into matter, forgetting death (which is so easy to do in a culture of distraction from mortality and life), forgetting the spirit, forgetting one's name, so to speak.

The most valuable gems to be found in a wealthy society are purposefulness, existential motivation, self-confidence, kindness and empathy. Let us all, who lead ordinary lives in highly developed nations, see how wealthy we are and seek to counteract the soul-numbing effects of material abundance through spiritual aspirations and a life of self-awareness.

The rich, nameless man was too attached to his lifestyle. Perhaps he was mistaking comfort for joy. They are not the same. They come from different sources and lead to different results. “For where your treasure is, there your heart is also” (Mt 6:21).

So how dependent are we on hot showers, coffee, our streaming services, our car, or takeout food? How about our job title? What about the new pair of shoes? How proud are we of our diplomas or intelligence? How much of our identity depends on how people perceive who we are? How often do we find something simple so ridiculous? How stupid are children in our eyes? What about the uneducated?

With all this luxury, where are our hearts?

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