From the Word
19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’ ”
Luke 16:19–31, RSV
We must not view the rich man according to his outward conduct; for he is in sheep’s clothing, his life glitters and shines beautifully, while he tactfully conceals the wolf. The text does not accuse him of adultery, of murder or robbery, or of anything that the world would censure. He had been as honorable and respectful in his life as that Pharisee who fasted twice a week and was not as other men. Had he committed glaring sins, the gospel would have mentioned them, since it examines him so minutely as to describe even the purple robe he wore and the food he ate, which are only external matters, and God does not judge according to them. Hence he must have led an outwardly exemplary life.
But we must look into his heart and judge his spirit. The gospel has penetrating eyes and looks deep into the secret recesses of the soul, reproves the works which reason cannot reprove and looks not at the sheep’s clothing, but at the true fruit of the tree to learn whether it is good or not. If we judge this rich man according to the fruits of faith, we will find a heart of unbelief. The gospel chastises him because he fares sumptuously every day and clothes himself so richly. He is not punished because he indulged in sumptuous fare and fine clothes; many saints, kings and queens in ancient times wore costly apparel; but because his heart was attached to them, sought them, trusted in them, and found in them all his joy and pleasure. He made them in fact his idols.
Where faith is, there is no anxiety for fine clothing and sumptuous living; there is no longing for riches, honor, pleasure and all that is not God himself. But there is a seeking and striving for God, the highest good. It is the same to the man of faith whether his food be dainty or plain, whether his clothing be fine or homespun. Though they even do wear costly clothes, possess great influence and honor, they esteem none of these things, but are forced to them, or come to them by accident, or they are compelled to use them in the service of others.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 203–04.