Accepting differences can be hard. As human beings, we struggle to understand and embrace what we don’t understand. We can see differences as dangerous or damaging. And we can push away those who are unlike us. In God’s eyes, we are all good. We are all worthy of love and care. Throughout his ministry, Jesus spoke up when he saw people being marginalized because their differences were perceived as threats to the community. He called on us to show those who were most vulnerable care so that they might know the love of God. In this lesson, children will explore the story of the rich man and Lazarus, noticing the comfort and care God gives Lazarus in the after-life. Then, they consider connections between the experiences of those who are houseless and Lazarus as well as Jesus’ call to care for those who are marginalized by society.
Begin your time with the children by asking them if they have ever seen a person standing on the street holding a sign asking for assistance. What did the person’s sign say? What did the person look like? How did the child feel when they saw this person? How did they respond to the person? Note that poverty and houselessness exist in every community. There are likely children attending school with them who are living in poverty.
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read Luke 16:19-31. Provide context for the reading. Tell the children the story they will hear is another of Jesus’ parables. Either review or introduce the definition of a parable. The parable they will hear is one of several Jesus offers to a crowd of people who have gathered to listen to him teach. Within the crowd are Jesus’ disciples, religious leaders from the temple, and a variety of people from the community, including people who were looked down on or judged by the community. In this story, Jesus speaks about two characters: a rich man and Lazarus. Encourage the children to notice how the rich man and Lazarus are treated when they are alive and when they enter the afterlife.
Read aloud Luke 16:19-31. After reading, ask the children to recount what the rich man’s life was like when he was alive. What did he wear? What did he eat? Have the children wonder what it would have been like to be this rich man. Then, ask the children to share what the story says about Lazarus’ life. Where did he spend his time? What did he look like? Note that Lazarus is outside of the gate to the rich man’s home. He is likely begging for food or money. He is obviously ill, which would have made him “unclean” to the people in the community. They would have been afraid to have contact with Lazarus because he had sores and those sores were licked by dogs. While it isn’t entirely clear, Lazarus may also be living without a home. Have the children wonder what it would have been like to be Lazarus.
Next, discuss the care Lazarus is given in the afterlife by Abraham. Note that he is comforted and cared for. He doesn’t suffer as he did when he was alive. Have the children wonder why Lazarus is given such loving care. Also, ask them to wonder how people in the community such as the rich man might have given Lazarus this kind of care when he was alive.
Relating the passage to our lives
Help the children connect the passage to their own lives. Begin by noting that Lazarus was on the street outside of the rich man’s home at the start of the story. He may have been houseless or, at the very least, he needed help to survive as he does not seem to have loved ones who care for him. Remind the children of the earlier discussion of poverty and houselessness. Note that many adults and children have difficulty having their basic needs met. They may not have permanent homes or they may not regularly have access to food, clothing, or medical care. It is important that people experiencing poverty are seen as fellow human beings rather than outcasts like Lazarus.
Share this video with the children. This video features a young child interviewing a man who was previously houseless about his experience. Note that the video mentions drug use but does not explore the topic in detail. Also, note that the viewpoint shared in it is one of an individual and may not be indicative of the experiences of all people living without a home.
After watching the video, ask the children to share key points from it. Discuss what Nick’s challenges were when he didn’t have permanent housing. Have the children share examples of people helping and supporting Nick. Discuss additional ways the community could have come to Nick’s aid. Then, look at the way that Phoebe (the young girl) interacts with Nick. She shows him respect and expresses empathy.
Conclude your time together by discussing resources within your community that support people living without a home. Explore how your congregation does or could contribute to these ministries.