Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. At this gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores. Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side. The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’ But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’ Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’ The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’ But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.'” (Luke 16:19-31)
Let’s begin the next pericope. We come now to the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man or the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus or the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man or the Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus or the Parable of Lazarus and Dives or the Parable of Dives and Lazarus. Take your pick, you have a few to choose from. Firstly, is it story or a parable? Jesus Himself doesn’t say it is a parable. All He says is, “There was a certain rich man”. It seems from the text that he was an unnamed man. A certain man but one whose name we don’t know.
- Do we indeed, know the rich man’s name or not?
- Where does the name Dives come from?
It is not at all the man’s name. It is simply the word for “rich” in Latin taken from the Latin Vulgate Bible. So no, we don’t know his name at all. We just know he was a rich man. We only know that much because Jesus tells us so in the story.
Some refer to it as a parable because in Medieval times it was grouped with the Parables of The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son and The Ten Virgins and was highly illustrated in those times. But nowhere in Scripture is it labelled as a parable. There is debate among the experts as to whether this is a true story or a parable. There is also debate as to what the point of the story / parable is. Some think it is an allegory of Judah and the Gentiles. Martin Luther taught it was a parable about the rich and poor and was told to stir us to action on the part of the poor. He felt the details of the afterlife were not important and not to be allegorised. John Lightfoot taught it was a parable against the Pharisees, specifically concerning their teaching on the Bosom of Abraham. E. W. Bullinger felt it was a parody of the Pharisees’ view of the afterlife.
Lazarus and the rich man was popular for another reason. It is the clearest part of Scripture which seems to give details of the afterlife from Jesus Himself. For this reason a lot of study has gone into finding out about what the afterlife is like based on this pericope.
- Do we indeed have a road map of the afterlife here or not?
- Is there a chasm between paradise and hell?
- Can you see people in either place from the other side?
- Can you see through the flames and make out the faces of people who are in torment?
- What happened to the rich man’s soul?
This story has sparked much debate and much controversy and multiple questions. I am sure it is stirring questions in you now if you didn’t have them before. One of the obvious questions is: what is the connection between this Lazarus and Lazarus of Bethany? Are they one and the same? Some have wondered whether this account comes from Lazarus who came back from the dead. It might interest you to know the name Lazarus is linked to the root of Eleazar which means “God is my help”. Do you have other questions? I will gather the questions you share with me and list them in the next Gem, without your name attached. I am not promising I will answer them all. What is this “parable” teaching and what is it not teaching? We will see what we find along the way as we pull this section apart.
Well, this should prove interesting shouldn’t it? Let’s step off the edge of the chasm and down into the abyss of Lazarus and the rich man.
To die will be an awfully big adventure.James Matthew Barrie
Death is only putting out the light because the dawn has come.Anon
Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me because in that other room I shall be able to see.Helen Keller
Everything science has taught me strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death. Nothing disappears without a trace.Wernher von Braun
- Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.
- The first question was, “Did you bring joy?”
- The second was, “Did you find joy?”
Ancient Egyptians slept on pillows made of stone. That’s actually what caused many of their deaths … pillow fights.Anon