Power and Responsibility
“With great power comes great responsibility.” This quote from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben has become one of the most common movie quotes of the last century. (Watch the scene here) This week’s Gospel text has a very similar lesson.
Wealthy people in first-century Rome were not evil people. In fact, quite the opposite. Many people assumed that the wealthy had earned their place as the result of God’s benevolence toward them. Or, that good people who work hard and live righteously could expect to be rewarded with means. “In the ancient world, concepts like wealth, virtue, and masculinity worked together and reinforced one another to solidify elite status." Thank goodness we don’t see this anymore today! (Insert sarcasm)
So, what did this rich man do wrong to deserve the punishment of eternal damnation? He did nothing. Which is the point. He was given a responsibility that he failed to live up to. “What is that responsibility?” you ask. Well, that is a very good question. In the ancient world there was a bench outside homes where beggars could wait for assistance. The poor were expected to receive something from a feasting host or guest. Verse nineteen tells us that this rich man feasted every day. Which means that Lazarus was denied many times as the wealthy man ignored the code of honor.
What do we do with the power and freedom God has given us in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior? How do we use the power of the good news of Christ to change the world around us? My friend Zhenya, in her book on Matthew, asks another similar question. Imagine what would happen if a man whose physical injury had turned him into a beggar happened upon a bench outside of a meeting of early Christians. How would he be treated? Would he hear the stories of Jesus’ healing? Of his words of blessing to the poor? How, if at all, would his life be changed as a result of choosing that bench?
Not only has God given us the gift of the good news of Jesus Christ: incarnation, resurrection, and ascension. God has also given each and every one of us a unique gift. We call these our spiritual gifts. The Apostle Paul [Link] tells us that when neglected, the whole body of Christ (the church) suffers. We have a power from God! And with this great power come an enormous responsibility.
How can we use the gifts God has given us to transform lives and make disciples of Jesus Christ? We are entrusted with a gospel message that has the power to bring anyone into a relationship with Jesus. Our Christian responsibility is to share our riches with those who are crying out for mercy. There are many sitting on benches outside our gates. Will we live into the responsibility of our wealth? Or, will we turn a blind eye to those who are relying on us to do our part?
 Mohn, Kendra A. “Commentary on Luke 16:19-31.” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, 13 Sept. 2022, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-26-3/commentary-on-luke-1619-31-8.  Zhenya Gurina-Rodriguez. Begging for Their Daily Bread: Beggar-Centric Interpretations of Matthew 6. (Minneapolis, MN: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2022), 63-4.