Summary: While judgment, salvation, discipleship, and the kingdom are elements of this story, this parable is about wealth. Jesus is concerned with the neglect of the poor because people are selfish with their wealth.
The Parables of Jesus
The Rich Man and Lazarus
July 12, 2009
Now we turn to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It is true that this is parable about discipleship as well as the future kingdom. But it is a parable specifically about money. How discipleship impacts our use of our wealth and how that discipleship impacts our future in God’s kingdom. Turn to Luke 16: 19-31.
A woman was working one night in a Honeybaked Ham store. The store had security cameras, and she was watching the small, black-and-white monitors when she saw a woman come in the store, walk down the handicapped ramp, and go between two shelves. To the clerk’s amazement, this woman grabbed a ham off the shelf and stuffed it up her dress. With the ham wedged between her thighs, the woman waddled toward the door.
The clerk was stunned and wondered what she should do.
Just then, the ham dropped out from between the woman’s legs. It hit the metal handicapped ramp with a loud bang, and then rolled and clanged to the bottom.
The thief didn’t miss a beat. She quickly turned her head and yelled out, "Who threw that ham at me? Who threw that ham at me?" Then she ran out of the store.
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ’Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
"But Abraham replied, ’Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
"He answered, ’Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
"Abraham replied, ’They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
" ’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ’but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
"He said to him, ’If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ "
Okay let’s look at some basic issues regarding this text and then move into some of cultural issues so that we can have a proper perspective.
• This a parable
This is a story used prophetically to speak the word of God in order to confront the love of money that Jesus says the Pharisees have in verse 14-15. This is not a real situation but a parable. While the basic truths of God’s kingdom including judgment and separation of the good and wicked inform this story, we should be careful about assuming that this is a literal picture of eternity as well as not assuming that these were real people.
As it is a parable we also need to not assume that the poor are inherently righteous. The parable makes not mention why Lazarus is blessed. He just is is blessed in God’s kingdom. But the parable does confront the common cultural assumption that poverty in life is an indication that a person is curse. Also:
• Similarities to John 11 are superficial
Lazarus was a very common name and we should not assume that this is Mary’s brother that was brought out of the tomb.
• The parable deals with wealth
The rich man who enjoys his wealth is contrasted with Lazarus who lies outside the gates of the rich man. The rich man makes no effort to alleviate the suffering of the poor something the Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing. The Pharisees were supposed to be using their money and the money of the Temple to help the poor such as widows but often made the taxes and tithes an even larger burden on them.
Here the rich man does nothing for the poor such as Lazarus, whose name means “God helps.” He lived in luxury every day. He paid no attention to the poor and suffering and did not try in the least to help them. When the situations are reversed, the rich man asks for a minuscule relief—a drop of water from the finger of Lazarus. But he is informed that just as he offered not even the crumbs from his table that were to be thrown out, he would get not relief.