Little Parable, Big Lessons

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus


There was this rich man who had everything—purple clothing of fine quality and high fashion, gourmet meals every day, and a large house. Just outside his front gate lay this poor homeless fellow named Lazarus. Lazarus was covered in ugly skin lesions. He was so hungry he wished he could scavenge scraps from the rich man’s trash. Dogs would come and lick the sores on his skin. The poor fellow died and was carried on the arms of the heavenly messengers to the embrace of Abraham. Then the rich fellow died and was buried and found himself in the place of the dead. In his torment, he looked up, and off in the distance he saw Abraham, with Lazarus in his embrace.

He shouted out, “Father Abraham! Please show me mercy! Would you send that beggar Lazarus to dip his fingertip in water and cool my tongue? These flames are hot, and I’m in agony!”

But Abraham said, “Son, you seem to be forgetting something: your life was full to overflowing with comforts and pleasures, and the life of Lazarus was just as full with suffering and pain. So now is his time of comfort, and now is your time of agony. Besides, a great canyon separates you and us. Nobody can cross over from our side to yours, or from your side to ours.”

“Please, Father Abraham, I beg you,” the formerly rich man continued, “send Lazarus to my father’s house.  I have five brothers there, and they’re on the same path I was on. If Lazarus warns them, they’ll choose another path and won’t end up here in torment.”

But Abraham said, “Why send Lazarus? They already have the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets to instruct them. Let your brothers hear them.”

“No, Father Abraham,” he said, “they’re already ignoring the law and the prophets. But if someone came back from the dead, then they’d listen for sure; then they’d change their way of life.”

Abraham answered, “If they’re not listening to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be convinced even if someone comes back from the dead.” Luke 16:19-31 (TheVoice)

Jesus told this parable to the religious self-righteous and elite. It was meant to shock and awaken and teach.

The Beggar Lazarus

Notice Lazarus is described as pitiable. He lies outside the front gate of a rich man. He is covered in open sores. He must find it difficult to move since dogs lick his wounds. He wishes he could collect scraps of food from the rich man’s trash, but he cannot; apparently he has been chased away. But in death, he has received grace. He has been “carried on the arms of heavenly messengers” to Abraham, where he is embraced.

He probably has not been touched for many years. As a beggar with a skin disease, his culture has deemed him unworthy. He must beg for food. He was likely tormented by children and ignored by the wealthy. They may not even have known his name. But now, he feels no more pain. His body is whole. He can rest easy in the care of a man of great faith in God’s kingdom.

The Rich Man

On the other hand, the rich man is not named by Jesus. He was clothed in a way that was symbolic of the Sanhedrin – the royal priesthood. When the rich man dies, he finds himself not with Abraham, but in the place of the dead. The term Jesus used was Gehenna, a valley where garbage and bodies of dead animals were cast. It was a graveyard where fire was burned all day long to keep the stench from reaching the city. (Jesus is recorded using this term in Matthew 5:22, 29-30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5)

The first thing the rich man does is feel fear when he recognizes that the beggar he used to walk past and ignore is with Abraham. The second thing he does is ask Abraham to send Lazarus to quench his thirst.

Really? Even in Gehenna, this Valley of the dead, the rich man still sees himself above Lazarus, who he wishes to send to do his bidding. But Abraham declines his request.

Again the rich man begs of Abraham to send Lazarus to his house to warn his brothers of their impending fate. He cannot fathom the tables are turned and Lazarus is the honored one. Even though it is in front of his face, his heart and mind have not changed one iota.

The rich man acknowledges his brothers ignore the prophets and suggest they might listen if someone returns from the dead to speak with them.

All of Us

Here’s the kicker: Abraham tells the rich man exactly what will occur in the near future.

They won’t be convinced even if someone comes back from the dead.”

Convinced of what?

That love and grace are the true Gospel.

And by the way, the beggar Lazarus is not named Lazarus by accident.

The brother of Martha and Mary will be the third person Jesus raises from the dead before he rises to conquer Death.

Will the religious leaders be convinced? Will Rome?

Will those who have concluded this is all mythology?

Will those who have determined they are right about Scripture and Law?

Will those who prefer accusation and division to love and grace?

Are you convinced enough to allow your heart and mind be transformed?

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