In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man, which is so strange it made me wonder who Jesus was aiming at.
Well, he’s just left off talking to the Pharisees “who loved money,” verse 14, and how they valued what people value, not what God values – and then they actually “justify” it too (verse 15). In other words, they were more interested in feeding themselves than they were the nation, and somehow in their own minds they thought that was OK.
Which obviously fits the story of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man being the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were supposed to be feeding the nation from God’s Word, and Lazarus representing the nation starving to be fed from God’s Word, and being totally ignored by their religious leaders who were pursuing money and power instead.
In other words, the shepherds of Israel didn’t care one hoot about feeding their starving sheep, and we know from Ezekiel 34 how God felt about that. He nails the shepherds for exactly what the Pharisees were doing in Luke 16. In Ezekiel 34:2-3, God roars through Ezekiel, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves. Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.”
And reminiscent of Jesus’ previous story in Luke 15 about searching for the lost sheep, Ezekiel continues blasting the shepherds in Ezekiel 34:4-5, “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost,” leaving those poor, lost, starving sheep of Israel to “become food for all the wild animals” instead. Or, in the case of Lazarus, leaving him at the rich man’s mansion gates, starving and covered in sores so raw that dogs took a liking to licking them (Luke 16:19-21).
Well, in Luke 16 we see how God felt about that too, because in verses 22-23 we find the rich man in hell after he dies, which is exactly what Jesus threatened the Pharisees and teachers of the law – the shepherds of Israel in his day – with in Matthew 23:34 when he roared at them, “You snakes, you brood of vipers, how will you escape being condemned to hell?”
And how does God respond when they’re in hell and in torment and begging for relief? Well, as Jesus tells it, Abraham tells the rich man that Lazarus is getting the comfort he needed that he didn’t get from the rich man, so it’s the rich man’s turn to know what it’s like to be in agony, and he can stay in hell to get his fill of it, which is all rather frightening for those claiming to be shepherds and pastors in any age who use religion to feather their own nests. They deserve an unending hell.
And even if they’ve learnt their lesson and want to prevent it happening to others by having Lazarus warn them (verse 27), Abraham makes it clear that if those claiming to be shepherds and pastors didn’t get the message from Scripture what their job is, they won’t get it from someone who’s even been resurrected from the dead telling them what their job is. If they’re hooked already on using religion to gain power and money for themselves, rather than feed their flock, it’s an extremely dangerous position to be in. It’s like a virus has attacked their brain and they can’t escape it.
As a shepherd, then, I think I’d want to take these verses very seriously, I have but one job to fulfill if I’m a pastor or shepherd, and that’s to feed my flock, just like Jesus told Peter to “Feed my sheep” in John 21:15-17. It’s not about building big, impressive church buildings, or going on missions, or trying to come up with splashy, music-churning church services to reach people’s emotions. It’s feeding people on God’s Word, like the main job of the pastors in Israel was to teach the Law and the Prophets (Luke 16:29), not create little empires around them that sucked the people dry of their time and money.
It makes me wonder if the Christian church will ever shake itself from creating empires that make their leaders rich and drunk on power and money, because we certainly haven’t shaken ourselves of it yet. It makes Luke 16 highly relevant and very scary, therefore, for anyone looking to become a shepherd and teacher in the church. If his priority is not feeding his sheep by burying their noses in Scripture, and yet he’s taking a salary that’s enough to meet all his own physical needs and more from his flock’s hard-earned cash, and he’s only interested in being a big personality to get a following for himself and building his own little empire, he’s in the same spot as the rich man in Luke 16.
But at least he was warned by Luke 16, so he knows what track he should be on for his own safety and that of his flock too. Just feed the flock is all he’s being asked to do, and feed them so well that they are obviously content and at peace. And they won’t have wounds and sores bothering them, nor will they be vulnerable to or be bothered by other influences, nor will they likely stray or go elsewhere to be fed, because they are being fully fed where they are.
And to Jesus, as head of the church, what could be more pleasing to him than that?