We Are Better People When We Pay Attention to the Poor at Our Gate

We Are Better People When We

Pay Attention to the Poor at Our Gate

Luke 16:14-31

 Part 1

We are better people when we avoid the scandal of poverty-gate. The scandal of Watergate proved to be the undoing of a former President. The scandal of poverty-gate proved to be the undoing of a wealthy member of God’s community. We can be better people with a cooler future if we pay attention to the men and women at our gate.

Money: God’s Chief Competitor

The number one competition that God has for our attention is money. Jesus says it is impossible to serve both God and money (Lk 16:13). Please observe. He didn’t say it was hard or a challenge; rather, it’s impossible, no loopholes or exceptions. Many ignore His absolute statement and try, but all inevitably fail; it’s a 100% failure rate.

How we use the wealth God has given us, Jesus teaches, will in part reveal our true god and our destiny. One of the proofs that we either serve God or money is whether or not we pay attention to the poor at our gate.

Are we paying attention to the poor at our gate? Or, due to a drive to pursue the American dream and the acquisition of material possessions, are we ignoring the poor woman or man at our gate? Is our case a repeat of the scandal of poverty-gate?

Luke records two stories, back-to-back, about the use of our wealth. Each story begins with, “there was a certain rich man…” The first story, Luke 16:1-13, urges us to use our wealth shrewdly. The second story, Luke 16:14-31, is familiar, but easily misunderstood.

Poverty Gate

This familiar story is confusing. By a casual reading, it looks like the postmortem fate of the rich bloke in Hades is because he lived in ostentatious luxury. But Luke does not suggest that his wealth was acquired through illegal means. Nor does Luke teach us that money or being rich[1] is evil.

The Gate through the Lens of Jewish Scripture

To understand this familiar but confusing story, we must view it through the lens of the wealthy bloke’s Bible. Luke drops a clue into the story to remind us to remember Jewish Scripture. That clue is the mention of a “gate.” But, first, observe, through the writings of Moses,[2] that there are people in the community who depend on our generosity for their nourishment.

28 At the end of every three years you must bring all the tithe of your produce, in that very year, and you must store it up in your villages. 29 Then the Levites …the resident immigrants/foreigners, the orphans, and the widows of your villages may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work you do. Deut 14:28-29

God commanded that every village was to store up enough food resources so that the hungry poor among them—poor foreigners/immigrants, widows, and orphans—might come and eat their fill. No one—even illegal aliens--in the community was to go hungry; no one. The community was responsible for their meals.

Knowing the tendency to pay attention to our own private desires and to be judgmental or tight-fisted toward the poor, Moses goes on to provide God’s people with incentive to cultivate a generous disposition toward the less fortunate within their gates: Deut. 15:7-8

7 If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers within any of your gates[3] in the land the Lord your God is giving you, you must not be hardhearted or tightfisted[4] toward your poor brother. 8 Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him (charge no interest) enough for whatever need he has.

The mention of “gates” in the land ties Luke’s story to Jewish Scripture and provides us with the necessary lens to view it without interpretive confusion.

The Rich Bloke’s Undoing

Why, then, is the mere presence of a starving beggar at the rich bloke’s gate proof of his outsider status in God’s family? Why did this wealthy fellow end up in Hades? His wealth was not the problem. His idolatrous heart was the problem. Wealth, not the God of Israel, was the shrine at which he worshiped.

Because wealth was his god, the Middle Eastern millionaire was insensitive to the needs of the beggar at his gate; thus he kept his distance. He paid no attention to a beggar at his gate. He abused his wealth, forsaking God’s clear command. This is why his punishment was so harsh. He was despising the authority of Scripture and selfishly seeking his own private satisfaction.

His high-dollar wardrobe and supper plate gushed with luxury. But the poor man at the gate was starving and covered with ulcers. He needed food and medical care. But at the rich bloke’s gate, the only medical help the beggar received was canine in nature. Street dogs came—not the rich man, he stayed in his palace[5]—and licked[6] his ulcers.[7] He starved for food at the gate while the rich bloke feasted in his palace. Obviously, financial prosperity is not a sign of God’s pleasure.

By default the rich bloke was defying the covenant (Scripture) God made with His people. The presence of a starving beggar at his gate was irrefutable evidence that he was ignoring his responsibilities to God. How he used his wealth, a gift from God, reflected his true character, predicted his destiny, and gave proof of his failure to trust and obey God. That is why he slid headfirst into scalding torment. It is a story of reversal.

Lazarus Enjoyed the Best Seat in the House

Did you observe that Luke did not say that the poor beggar was carried by the angels to heaven? Of course, he was; but Luke gives the location of the afterlife a distinctly Jewish title: the bosom[8] of Abraham; that should grab our attention. Lazarus is closely embraced by no less than the father of the whole family of Israel. From a lowly gate he was vaulted to a bosom, the best seat in God’s house; a wonderful reversal. There’s more.

This reference to Abraham’s bosom explains why earlier in Luke, John the Baptist told the crowd to “bear fruits worthy of repentance and do not begin to say to ourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” John was saying: “Don’t bank on a cool future because Abraham is your father. He is not your father. Abraham is father to those who hear, trust, and obey God’s Word, producing fruits worthy of repentance.”

Proverbs 19:17

He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,

and he will reward him for what he has done.

Proverbs 12:13

If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor,

he too will cry out and not be answered.


Luke redefines God’s family members—sons and daughters of Abraham--according to a new standard. Fruits, worthy of repentance, not bloodlines, show true membership in God’s family, and reserves a choice seat in Abe’s bosom.

The Middle Eastern sheik failed to yield the fruits, worthy of repentance, and was ushered into the fire. He failed to use his wealth as the Scriptures required. His god was money. Thus, he ignored the beggar at his gate. He was an Israelite in name only. His idolatrous choice was to spend loads of cash on himself and allow a helpless human being to languish at his gate with only a pack of wild dogs for company. God’s reward for his idolatry was torment in the afterlife. Poverty gate was this millionaire’s undoing.

Lazarus and Mary

If our ear is tuned to Luke’s Gospel, we might have heard an echo from Jesus’ mother, also a poor woman.[9] In view of the birth of her Son, Jesus, Mary interprets it, and then records new Scripture,[10] the Magnificat.[11]

He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty-handed. Luke 1:52-53.

We are better people when, for example, instead of buying expensive choir robes, we pay close attention to the Scriptures and look with compassion at the poor at our gate. Poverty-gate will not be our undoing.

But Luke’s story takes a surprising twist. It should be over. But the rich bloke, while hopelessly hot, is not finished.

He negotiates with Abraham to rescue his family from experiencing his fiery fate. He asks for a spectacular sign to change their minds. He knows his five brothers are not disposed to take Bible teaching seriously. Like children, they require something spectacular, some Christian razzle-dazzle to attract their attention. His brothers will listen to a messenger if his show is sensational.

But Abraham pulls the pin on a grenade and blows up such American-church thinking. Part 2 of this blog focuses on Luke’s response to the rich bloke’s demand for the sensational, some spectacular Christian entertainment to hold his brothers’ attention. Look for it.

Have a look around. Who is at our gate?

Thank you for reading.
Tim Cole


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[1] Paul clarifies and teaches us that the love (lit., “strong desire for”) of money is a root of all brands of evil. 1 Tim 6:10

[2] “Moses” refers to the Pentateuch, the Book of the Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

[3] Each city, town, or village had a gate, an entrance way into the city.

[4] The idea of the Hebrew word is to be insensitive to need.

[5] The word “gate” is normally associated with large, pricey homes or temples.

[6] Street dogs are not to be confused with the household pet variety of dogs.

 Licking his ulcers by a wild dog made the beggar unclean.

[7] As a physician, Luke no doubt observed this pathetic scene acted out many times.

[8] “Bosom” (κολπον) refers to the closest possible position and fellowship with someone. Jesus came from the “bosom” of the Father, the closest position and fellowship with the Father. John 1:18

[9] We know that Joseph and Mary were poor because they brought an offering required for a firstborn son, the required offering given by the poor. Luke 2:24.

[10] Yes, all my chauvinistic friends, you heard it correctly. Mary, a young woman, wrote what became part of Scripture. Jesus’ mother was well chosen. She was young, no doubt; but despite her youth, Mary evidences intellectual brilliance, Scriptural acumen, and prophetic insight with this song.  Jesus’ church needs more brilliant women like Mary to write about the deep truths of God. We have much to learn about God from the Mary’s of our day. And equally important, Jesus’ church needs to affirm them, listen to them, and learn from them. Where are you 21st century Marys?

[11] The name “Magnificat” describes the entire Scripture song Mary wrote, recorded in Luke 1:46-55. “Magnificat” is the Latin word for “magnify,” the first verb in Mary’s song. “My soul magnifies the Lord…” The Greek word (μεγαλύνει) has the idea of “to make large” such as the case with a magnifying glass. Mary’s soul magnified the Lord, not herself. Her song draws attention to God. Observe: the theological depth and biblical accuracy of the lyrics of her song, not the staging, nor the voice, nor the lights or smoke, nor the volume or show business hype, attract our attention. Mary is a true musical theologian.