Summary: Eternal destiny? Attitude? Eternal Separation?
Lazarus and the Rich Man
This parable is often ignored or used for evangelistic sermons about the permanency and reality of heaven and hell. Whilst it does deal with both of those subjects, that is not actually the core teaching of this parable. As always let us set the parable in its context. If you look at verses 9-13 of the same chapter you will see Jesus’ teaching about the impossibility of serving two masters – God and mammon. Jesus speaks, using a play on words in the Aramaic language of his day, of how we cannot be trusted with ‘the truth of God’ if we cannot be trusted with the mammon that has been given to us. Also we should note that this parable is the third of a trilogy – the prodigal son wasted his father’s money (Luke 15), the dishonest steward wastes his master’s possessions (Luke 16.1-8) and here a rich man wastes his own possessions.
There are two sections to the parable – the picture painted of the situation in verses 19-23 and the dialogue in verses 24-30.
The first scene in the parable paints a picture of self-indulgence. Here we meet a man who cares only for himself and his own pleasures. Each day he dressed himself in purple robes. He had other robes of different colours but purple being the most expensive colour of the day it is this which he displays to the outside world. Look how rich I am! We also read that he wore ‘fine linen’. The word in Greek is bussos, which transliterates the Hebrew word butz, which in turn refers to quality Egyptian cotton used in making undergarments. There is a touch of humour here with Christ. He is saying that this man not only had expensive outer robes but in case anyone was interested, he also wore fine quality underwear. We also hear from the lips of Jesus that this man feasted sumptuously ‘every day’ – making out that he did not observe the Sabbath. His indulgent lifestyle was the most important thing to him, even more important than observing the Law of God.
In verse 20 we meet the second player in this parable, Lazarus. Lazarus means ‘the one whom God helps.’ He is the only character given a name in any of the parables. Here we read of a man who seems to be neglected, forgotten by God. Day by day he lies at the gate of this rich man. Presumably he is unable to walk there as we read that ‘he was laid’ outside this man’s gate each day and would require his family and friends to carry him there each day. He has no food, no wealth and is sick. His family and friends did what they could for him, laying at the gate of the only man with the resources to truly help him. Yet this rich man was blind to Lazarus lying at his gate, but as we will see later in the parable he did know his name. Jesus says that Lazarus ‘desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.’ He wanted this but was unable to attain this. Lazarus lies at the gate of this man’s home. Each day he witnesses the sights and smells of the sumptuous banquet and each day his desire for food goes unfulfilled. The guard dogs of this man’s house are better fed than Lazarus.
Lazarus’ only comfort is that the dogs come and lick his wounds. Dogs lick you when they show affection and this is the only affection that Lazarus receives from the rich man’s household. What a contrast to the indifference of the rich man to Lazarus’ suffering.
The parable continues that Lazarus died and too poor for a funeral the angles take him to Abraham’s side where a banquet is thrown to welcome him. The rich man also dies and was buried. The contrast is startling. It would have come as no surprise to those listening to Christ that this self-indulgent rich man found himself in Hades or hell. The dramatic tension between Lazarus and the rich man continues in the afterlife. The rich man recognises Lazarus, so he knew Lazarus which makes his behaviour towards him even more reprehensible. Surely the rich man will apologise for his behaviour towards Lazarus and ask his forgiveness.
The rich man begins the second part of the parable with a request. A request not to Lazarus but to Abraham. He begins by addressing Abraham as ‘my father Abraham…’ The rich man is playing his racial card – I have the blood of Abraham running in my veins, and Abraham is the patriarch of my clan. He is relying on this to gain favour with Abraham but it doesn’t. The rich man next states the traditional ‘beggar response’ “have mercy on me.” I wonder how often he heard such words fall from the lips of the helpless Lazarus at his gates? He longs to become Lazarus – the one whom God helps, but it is too late.