Summary: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost September 30, 2001 Luke 16: 19-31
Heavenly Father, thank you for replenishing love when we give it away. Amen. Title: “Justice after all”
Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus to illustrate how different God’s values are from those of this world.
In Chapter sixteen verses one to eight, Jesus told the story about the wise steward “making friends for himself” by his wise use of money, behavior to be emulated and imitated. The rich man in this present story illustrates behavior to be avoided. This rich man did not “makes friends” by using his money to help others and so he was not received into their, heavenly, homes. The rich man avoided the poor Lazarus in this world. This avoidance behavior, what you and I would call sins of omission, turns around in the next life. It is he who is avoided.
Actually, two themes are expressed in this parable. The first one verses nineteen to twenty-six, is the reversal of fortune in the afterlife, a common one in Jesus’ teaching and throughout the New Testament. The second is the “hardness of heart” theme, another common one. Here the point is made that even should one return from the dead and tell of eternal justice the “hard of heart” will not be convinced and change. In John there was a Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, who returned from the dead and many remained unmoved. So did Jesus rise from the dead and many remained hardhearted.
In verse nineteen, a rich man dressed in purple…feasted sumptuously every day: This man had it all, living in a style “fit for a king.”
In verse twenty, a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores: Lazarus was both economically poor and in poor health. He had nothing. Of all Jesus’ parables, including example stories, this is the only one where a person is named. Lazarus is a shortened form of Eleazar, which means “God has helped.” Since God alone helped Lazarus he is well named for the story’s purpose. Whether there is an intentional allusion to another well-known story, that of the raising of Lazarus, is unclear, but Christians would make such a connection. One story may well have influenced the other, although we cannot say which.
In verse twenty-one, the scraps that fell from the…table: Bread was used for a napkin. Food, eaten with the hands, was wiped off by wiping the hands with chunks of bread, bread a little thinner than pizza bread, and the bread thrown away. Sitting outside the door Lazarus would wait for it. Though the story never says Lazarus actually ate the scraps, but simply “longed” to do so, beggars do not hang out in places where there is no chance of food or alms.
In verse twenty-two, when the poor man dies he was carried away by angels: This was a euphemistic way of saying that poor people had no one or their families had no money, to give them a decent burial. They would be left where they died until carted away. People would say that angels took care of them.
To the bosom of Abraham: “Bosom” connotes intimacy, like a child lying in a parent’s lap. Here the picture would be of the closeness of the guest to the host at a banquet. Lazarus, deprived of food let alone feasting on earth, now enjoys a heavenly banquet right next to Abraham, a banquet where the rich man is now on the outside looking in. The “tables” are reversed. It is implied that Lazarus, though poor and sore, lived a life pleasing to God, whereas the rich man did not.