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When Enough is Enough
LUKE 16:19-31, I TIMOTHY 6:6-19
I don't know about you, but the story told by Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel Lesson this morning, makes me very uncomfortable. According to the Interpreter's Bible, Albert Schweitzer was also disturbed by this story. The story of the indifferent rich man and Lazarus, the beggar, was the spark that touched off the revolution in Schweitzer's life which sent him to give his life as a medical missionary in Africa.
The rich man ended up in hell, in torment, dying for a drink of cold water. The homeless beggar, Lazarus, found his reward in Abraham's bosom. The point of the story seems to be the disparity in wealth. Jesus did not say that the rich man was cruel to Lazarus. He did not kick Lazarus. He did not demand that Lazarus move away from his gate. He had no objections to Lazarus receiving his leftovers. What seems to be the point is the rich man had too much, Lazarus had too little, and therefore the rich man was tormented in hell and Lazarus rewarded in heaven.
The rich man had too much. When is enough enough? Our society seems to have difficulty knowing when enough is enough. How many nuclear weapons must we stockpile before we have enough? How many times can we destroy the planet before we have enough? We had the carpets cleaned in our house this week and had to clean out closets. How many pairs of shoes are enough? I couldn't believe how many old shoes I had stockpiled in the back of the closet. How many dresses and suits are enough? How much money is enough? How much savings is enough for retirement and the "last illness?" How many things are enough? When is enough enough? Our society has difficulty with this question, acting on the supposition that more is better.
It is interesting how the lectionary selected the reading from Timothy to go with Jesus' story from Luke. The Timothy passage gives us some very practical help in answering the question when is enough enough. The author first delivers some very serious warnings about the dangers of accumulating wealth. Look at I Timothy 6:9-10. "Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils." What happens to people when they are snared or seduced by wealth is seen on every hand today. They are captured by the power of money. They desire to get more and more just for the sake of getting more. Now the House of Representatives has approved a capital gains tax relief that particularly benefits the very wealthy. How much do the wealthy of this country need? When is enough enough?
Now, notice that the author does not say money is evil, or that wealth is to be avoided at all costs. William Barclay in his commentary on this passage wrote, (page 152) Money in itself is neither good nor bad...With money a man can do much good; and with money he can do much evil. With money a man can selfishly serve his own desires; and with money he can generously answer to the cry of his neighbor's need. With money a man can buy his way to the forbidden things and facilitate the path of wrongdoing; and with money he can make it easier for someone else to live as God meant him to live. Money is not an evil, but it is a great responsibility.
How do we know when enough is enough? The author of I Timothy gives us some tests. Look at verse 17, "As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty." In other words, you've got more than enough, you've got too much when you become haughty. I suspect the rich man's evil lay not so much in his wealth, but in his haughty disregard of the beggar Lazarus. Barclay in his commentary on this passage (page 322) says that "the sin of the rich man was that he never noticed Lazarus, that he accepted Lazarus as part of the landscape, that he thought it perfectly natural and inevitable that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger while he wallowed in luxury." On the plane Monday coming home from Minnesota, I overheard a passenger say, "Homeless people like to live on the streets. They want to be there." Can you hear the rich man say, "Lazarus likes to lie at my gate, begging for leftovers, having the dogs lick his ulcers, the sores on his body."
When you become haughty, when you become callous to human suffering, when you no longer see or respond to human need, when you begin blaming the poor for their poverty, like blaming the woman when she's raped, or blaming the victim when he is robbed, then you've got more than enough; you've got too much! When poverty no longer bothers you, then you've got too much. When you begin to resent those in need, when you resent your tax money going to social programs, then you've got too much! Isn't it ironical--the more one has, the more one wants, and the more one has, the more anxiety over losing it. Beware, when you become haughty, that's the first sign of having too much.
Continuing in 6:17, "Charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches." You've got enough, you've got more than enough, when you set your hope on the accumulation of wealth and material things. When your feeling of security is in a bank account, or in savings for your final illness, or in an accumulation of things, you've got more than enough; you've got too much. In verse 7, the author reminds us of the truth many of us would like to forget, "we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world." When you become too attached to things, stocks, bonds, wealth, you will receive a big disappointment in the next life, for none of those things will be there. You might even call it torment; for when you take things away from some people, there is nothing left.
Don't put your hope in things; instead, says the author in verse 17, put your hope "on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy." In other words, if your hope is not in God, if God is not real to you, if God is not as vital in your life as he used to be, you've got too much. Your life has been trivialized by wealth.
In order to keep wealth in proper perspective, in order to use wealth rather than being used by wealth, the author gives some very practical advice. Verse 18, "Do good, be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous." When you are liberal and generous, when you use your wealth to respond to human need, when you use your wealth to do God's work, when you give generously as God has given generously to you, then you have enough and not too much. Earn all you can, make every investment count, do your best for your family, for your security, yes, but especially so that you can generously share your resources to do God's work. The biblical standard is the tithe, 10%. It's a practical, reasonable method. It's fair; no matter what your wealth or lack of it.
When you tithe, you can feel good. Your guilt can be relieved. You do not need to worry about being tormented while Lazarus is honored. When you use your wealth wisely and generously, when you are rich in good deeds, and give liberally and generously, according to the author in 6:19, you will lay up for yourself a good foundation for the future, so that you may take hold of the life which is life indeed. As someone put it, "What I kept, I lost; what I gave, I have."
That's the promise. Enough is enough when you are humble rather than haughty, thankful to God for all you have, placing your hope not in your wealth but in God, and generous with your tithe. And God will bless you with life with a capital L, life which is life indeed.
© 1989 Douglas I. Norris