Three Rs, as in the letter R, refers to the foundations of education: reading, writing and arithmetic. We use the phrase “the three Rs” because each word has a strong R sound at the beginning. The term is ironic, since everyone knows that two of the words do not actually begin with the letter R.
During the 17th century, New England teachers summed up learning as "four Rs" - Reading, 'Riting, ‘Rithmetic and Religion. These days, school districts identify three Rs as Relating, Representing and Reasoning. Employers use the words Rapid, Reliable and Repeatable; and environmentalists encourage people to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. All this to say that my three-pointed sermon is Repent, Right and Relationship – and what those Three Rs have to do with Christian living.
First, repent. A simple definition of repent is to feel or show sorrow for something bad or wrong that you did and that you want to do what is right. Repentance is a major theme in Luke, but before Jesus began his earthly ministry, John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Jews taught repentance long before John appeared on Jordan’s banks. In Deuteronomy, we read, “When you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.”
The Chronicler wrote, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Prophets echoed repentance in their preaching. In Isaiah, we read, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” Jeremiah wrote, “After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.” Ezekiel exhorted, “If a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live.” So, John or Jesus did not introduce repentance. It was present from the days of Moses.
From Repent to Right. Simply defined, right means morally or socially correct; agreeing with the facts or truth; or speaking, acting or judging in a way that agrees with the facts or truth.
Its root word is from the Greek, orektós, and the Latin, rectus, meaning straight. The Ancients said the straight muscles in our bodies – the thigh and abdomen – enable us to stand straight or erect. In English, the word right emerged as straighten or direct, and the obvious connection between right and righteous is easy. God called people to live righteous lives, that is, morally acceptable lives, and called them to stand up straight for themselves and others; that is, to live in relationship with others.
We stand erect and see straight with our brothers and sisters beside us. That brings me our third R – Relationship.
The word relationship means the way two or more people, groups or countries talk to, behave toward or deal with each other, or the way they are connected.
The root word of relationship is the Latin word, relatus, meaning to refer, but initially from latus, meaning side. Think latitude or lats if you exercise. To stand in relation or to have a reference point, or to bring something into relation with something else is how people used the word in the 17th century. "To feel connected or sympathetic to" emerged in psychology around 1950. However used, the word connotes a connection. As God’s people, we relate to one another in righteous living. We stand and see straight with our brothers and sisters beside us.
Now that we have the three concepts – repentance, right and relationship – let us examine our passage.
Our parable opens with Jesus contrasting two characters. The rich man is unnamed, but Jesus named the other man Lazarus, meaning “the one whom God helps.” The rich man lived large. A clothes hog, he covered his body with purple linen and silk, but the only thing that covered Lazarus’ body was sores.
While people reserved feasting for special occasions, this man partied to the extreme. He feasted sumptuously seven days a week. Lazarus, like the prodigal son who would have been content with pig food, yearned to be satisfied with food scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the fact that dogs licked his sores only added to his humiliation. A crippled beggar at the gate of the rich man’s house where people came and went, Lazarus was the perfect recipient for almsgiving.
The parable provides a fitting conclusion to chapter 16 and the attitude toward possessions in view of God’s Kingdom. In addition, the description of the rich man suitably depicted the Pharisees, who were lovers of money. They were like him, who knew, yet ignored Lazarus. On the other hand, Lazarus represented society’s outcasts. Though his life was pathetic and pitiable, his name suggested importance in God’s sight.
At the moment the Pharisees identified with the rich man and the outcast identified with Lazarus, Jesus introduced the Great Reversal. Lazarus died and angels carried him to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man died and was buried.
From Hades, the rich man opened the conversation by asking Father Abraham to have mercy on him. This recalled Pharisees who came to John the Baptist and claimed, “We have Abraham for our father,” yet refused to repent and submit to John’s baptism. Unlike Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, whom Jesus dubbed a son of Abraham, the rich man refused to repent. Zacchaeus repented and welcomed Jesus into his home for he knew that simply being a son of Abraham did not protect him from condemnation.
The rich man did not speak words of repentance. He realized his condition was permanent and pleaded for help. He still thought only of himself and his needs, and not those of Lazarus. In response, Abraham told the rich man to remember what happened, that is, to read back and interpret events that took place. Lazarus begged at the gate, while he lived large and ignored the beggar’s needs.
This parable illuminates the story of the unrighteous steward who showed mercy toward his master’s debtors, because he trusted in the mercy of his master. Because God treats sinners with mercy, the rich man so should have treated Lazarus, and the Pharisees should have treated society’s outcasts with mercy.
Still unrepentant, the rich man requested that Lazarus go to his brothers, for he realized repentance was crucial to salvation. Yet, he did not consider the Word of God sufficient to produce repentance. Instead, he desired a miraculous sign – someone raised from the dead. While the Old Testament contained accounts of the resurrection, why would his brothers believe another’s testimony if they did not believe the Scriptures?
Abraham suggested they listen to Moses and the Prophets read in the synagogue. In other words, heed the Scriptures read during worship and take them to heart. As hearers of the Word, they would know all they need about the kingdom of grace, characterized by mercy and almsgiving to people like Lazarus. The conclusion for the Pharisees is this: If they do not stop scoffing at Jesus’ teaching about the proper use of possessions, they would find themselves with the rich man in eternal torment.
Now, let me examine our Gospel in light of my three Rs of Christian living – repentance, right and relationship.
It is easy to see Jesus’ call for repentance. As I explained earlier, repentance is a basic Biblical teaching, which includes righteous living in relationship with people like Lazarus.
True Sons of Abraham heed God’s commandments. In Exodus, we read, “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat. … You shall do likewise with your vineyard and … olive orchard.”
Leviticus legislated, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.” Deuteronomy repeated the command to live righteously with others,  and Proverbs taught, “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”
Isaiah exhorted, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
That Abraham suggested the rich man’s brothers listen to Moses and the Prophets read in the synagogue is the message Jesus directed to the Pharisees. You see, one of Luke’s goals in writing his Gospel was to encourage rich Christians to attend to the needs of the poor and to share material goods. We can easily imagine the impact this parable must have had on the Church’s rich members. Sobering and scary, it should do the same to 21st-century American Christians.
Some early Christian Pharisees who saw no need to observe Old Testament Law regarding right living in relationship with the poor needed to repent more than anyone. Let me repeat that because it applies to Christian living today. Some early Christian Pharisees who saw no need to observe Old Testament Law regarding right living in relationship with the poor needed to repent more than anyone.
We live in a rich country. However slender our personal fortunes, they dwarf the incomes and possessions of people in most countries. I have been out of work since May, but many more poor people rely upon our generosity. In other words, Lazarus is among us! Do we choose to ignore Lazarus? Do we distract ourselves with foolish pleasures as the rich man did?
Neither Jesus nor Luke was an economist or a politician, but at a certain point, the problems of poverty and homelessness turn into economic and political matters. How we deal with the poor personally and socially is one of the challenges we face today.
Most of the time, we live righteous lives in relationship with the poor, and yet, even if that is always true, we cannot afford to gloss over this parable. Pastor Arthur Just, who digs into Luke in his commentary, raises the idea of the proper use of possessions. He writes, “The proper use of possessions in view of the coming age and the Old Testament testimony, including [the] resurrection … prepares people for the Gospel and the life to come.”
The proper use of possessions prepares us for the Gospel and eternal life, and for how we live as a Gospel people today. Folks, if we are not a Gospel people, what kind of people are we? If I am not a living Gospel, what am I? If I am not a repentant sinner who lives righteously in relationship with society’s outcasts – widows, orphans, the poor and the foreigner – what kind of Christian am I? So, my friends, I pose a delicate question: How do I use my possessions? Delicate indeed, but one to ponder.
I worked for an organization that promotes church planting in Asia, Africa and Latin America. One of our donors, a financial advisor, informed me that when he told clients about this nonprofit, some replied, “I want you to tell me how to invest my money, not how to spend it.” In other words, asking people to consider how they use their possessions is a delicate question, but it needs to be pondered.
Friends, I imagine you are in a relationship with our Triune God, and, like the Trinity, in relationship with other people. I ask you to do only one thing. Ponder the three Rs of Christian living. Am I a repentant sinner who strives to live in right relationship with the outcasts of society and share with them my possessions for the greater glory of God? Ponder that question, and when you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 Luke 3:3.
 Deuteronomy 30:2-3.
 2 Chronicles 7:14.
 Isaiah 30:15.
 Jeremiah 31:19.
 Ezekiel 18:21-22.
 Luke 3:7-9.
 Luke 19:9.
 2 Kings 4:8-37; 13:20-21.
 Exodus 23:10-11.
 Leviticus 19:9-10.
 Deuteronomy 15:4-8.
 Proverbs 28:27.
 Isaiah 58:6-7.
 Just, 634.