Am I the Good Guy or the Bad Guy?
Luke 16:19,20 There was a rich man who… feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus… who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.
Years ago, I saw a movie in which the main character, blind to his progressively destructive behavior, has an epiphany near the end of the movie. You mean I’m the bad guy? Unable to see his actions the way others did, he justified his criminal acts, right up until the end.
Like that character, my capacity for destructive, self-absorbed behavior is matched only by my ability to rationalize it. In my worst destruction, I used my belief that I was a pretty good guy to justify my actions. I’m not a bad guy… It’ no big deal… I do enough good…
In Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, He tells of a good guy and a bad guy. The rich (bad) man enjoyed all the best that life had to offer while Lazarus, the beggar, lay starving at his gate. Both died and Lazarus went to paradise while the rich man did not. In Hades, the rich man called on Lazarus to bring him some water from paradise. The request was refused by Abraham, the arbiter. Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish (v 25).
We read this story and tend to think it is about a single choice in this life which determines our destination in the afterlife. While Jesus certainly was teaching that our choices matter, He was also telling his audience that they may not be on the side they think.
Jesus’ story was a warning to the Pharisees who believed themselves to be as righteous as they were successful. It is no accident that Jesus made the successful man the bad guy and the poor man the good guy.
He was not saying that the poor are inherently good or that the wealthy are inherently bad. He was repeating his frequent teaching that success and self-reliance lead us away from God while need drives us to him. The successful just often do not need God while those who recognize their need, seek him desperately.
I read this story and I think myself to be on the side of Lazarus, the good guy. I have made my decision for God in this life and so I imagine myself to be destined for paradise. The truth is though, I do not want to live like Lazarus in this life. I want to live like the rich man. I want to be like the bad guy in life and like the good guy in death. I want to live for me now and inherit eternal life later.
The good guy does not live for himself though. The good guy in Jesus’ story recognizes his poverty and sees his need for God. Lazarus did not go to paradise because he was poor. He followed God because he saw his need for God. The rich man did not need God in life so he did not find him in death.
It is only in recognizing my poverty daily that I turn to God. If I want to be the good guy in the story, I need to be honest about my continual need for God. I need to love God and I need to love whatever Lazarus He puts before me.
The Seeds of the Spirit is a daily blog based on a walk through the New Testament. Written from the perspective of my own addiction, it explores the common defects of our flesh nature and the solution, our spirit life. If you find it helpful, sign up for the blog as a daily email, tell your friends and like/share it on Facebook.