Summary: this is the only parable in which a person’s name is mentioned which some bible scholars believe was not an imaginary tale, but a true story!
Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Sunday, March 7, 2010
by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
In a Manner of Speaking: The Parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus”
Of Jesus’ forty-four parables, four of which are repetitious, the “Rich Man and Lazarus” is by far the most unique. For instance, this is the only parable in which a person’s name is mentioned which some bible scholars believe was not an imaginary tale, but a true story. But whether this was fact or fiction, Christ handled this story in much the same way He did with all of His parables insofar as there was a “message behind the message.”
Then, too, this was the only parable which talks about an “intermediate state, condition, or place” following a person’s death, but prior to the final Judgment. Within Christendom some persuasions refer to this temporary “staging area” as a place called “Purgatory”.
For the unbeliever this parable serves as a dire warning! But for the believer it offers a certainty and a hope! Notice carefully both the subtle as well as the not so subtle ironies: The first thing we observe in this parable is that: IN LIFE THERE WAS A STARK CONTRAST BETWEEN THESE TWO INDIVIDUALS (repeat).
In this story the rich man remains anonymous. However, he represents a person whom many of us have encountered at one time or another. His wealth had elevated him to social prominence which only served to feed his ego; for in every respect this man was “puffed up” and full of himself. Because of his foolish pride he tended to look down on those who were less fortunate with a condescending attitude and an air of superiority.
Someone once said: “Pride is the dandelion of the soul. Its roots go deep … and its seeds lodge in the tiniest of cracks ... It’s not easily detected while it lays dormant in the ground but once it sprouts up, pride is difficult to remove because it feeds on goodness.” Perhaps this is one reason why God wisely designed the human body so that we can neither pat ourselves on the back, nor kick ourselves in the rear!
The opening verses reveal that this rich man was not only “well-to-do” but that he lived luxuriously. He wore the finest of linens which were not only expensive, but the color purple itself denoted royalty. Then, too, his house must have been rather stately for the text tells us that it was “gated” which suggests that his estate was not only expansive but also private as if to say, “Strangers are not welcome here … Keep out!”
Now contrast this rich man with the person of Lazarus, who was clearly not the same Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead in John chapter 11. The Lazarus in this story was truly a man to be pitied for he was sorely afflicted with all kinds of physical ailments. Some have suggested that this man’s fragile condition and open sores indicated leprosy, or some other dreaded disease. But this seems unlikely because in Jesus’ day lepers were usually confined to cave dwellings, catacombs and the like. The Pharisees believed that people like Lazarus were accursed by God and for whatever reason deserved their fate.
But whatever afflicted him, Lazarus was unable to fend for himself. Only the dogs expressed pity for this man by licking his open sores. And like that of a dog Lazarus was reduced to eating the leftover scraps from the rich man’s table. Yes, if ever there was a man who had a right to curse at God, it was Lazarus. And yet there is nothing to indicate that this pitiful character was angry at God, or envious of this rich man, or resentful towards his fellow man. Instead, Lazarus appeared to have resigned himself to his lowly, feeble condition.
But in addition to the stark contrast between these two individuals in life, THERE WAS A STARK CONTRAST BETWEEN THEIR FINAL DESTINATIONS AFTER DEATH (repeat).
In verse 22 we read that this rich man eventfully died and was buried. No doubt there would have been an elaborate funeral service with much pomp and circumstance. Like that of all mankind the rich man’s body was placed in the grave which is the Hebrew word “sheol.”
However, the Bible tells us that this rich man was also confined to a place called hell or “Hades.” Throughout the New Testament this denotes a place of punishment and torment. It is sometimes used interchangeably with the word “gehenna” which got its name from a place called the valley of Hinnom, located southwest of Jerusalem where child sacrifices once took place. People seldom ventured to this foreboding place for legend had it that the spirits of these departed children cursed those who would dare enter their domicile. And although he was absent from his body, this rich man’s soul endured continuous torment, for we read that his tongue was parched and dry from the fire and the unrelenting heat!