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 his 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
These verses are in stark contrast to what the previous verse depicted. Lazarus is in contrast to “Dives” throughout this story, the two are contrasted in every way. The Lazarus story starts in the same way the rich man’s story starts, “A certain poor man named Lazarus lay at his gate”. Note “his being at the rich man’s gate”. Well, surprise, surprise, that these two would be placed in juxtaposition. Note the rich man is not named, while the poor man is named. This is the only time in the parables of Jesus, that a participant is named. This poor man is important. You know from what I told you yesterday, that his name means, “the one who God helps” in Hebrew. God knows this man’s name. The rich man maybe filthy rich but his name is not on God’s lips.
Lazarus ‘lay’ at the rich man’s gate. In what manner was he laid? There are two thoughts concerning this. The pluperfect [ebebleto] has two senses. At the root of the word [ballein] it carries the idea of being thrown down, cast out. So on the one hand, we may perceive Lazarus as being cast aside, thrown or dumped at the rich man’s gate, without thought or care for his well-being or comfort. He could not move himself, so others had to pick him up and dump him at the entrance of the rich man’s mansion. He has been dump there like “human garbage”. On the other hand, in later Greek usage of the word [ballein], it had lost its violent sense and rather meant to place or lay at the gate. In other words, his friends and family placed him there in the prime location to be seen by the rich friends entering the “Dives” house everyday. It is very clear that this rich man would have known Lazarus was there. Having lived in Asia, we were very aware of what went on at our gate. At times when we left things at the gate to be thrown out, they would not last 5 minutes before being taken by those sifting through the rubbish. We got to know the people begging outside our door. It would have been impossible for “Dives” not to have known Lazarus was there. He would have been reminded by his rich friends coming for their sumptuous feasts every day.
As Jesus told the story, Lazarus longed for scraps from the rich man’s table. It is likely that the feasts took place in a courtyard / patio area inside the gate. Lazarus would have heard the banter over the feast everyday. With all the food that was consumed in extravagance inside, there was bound to be scraps thrown outside the gate for the dogs. That was a daily occurrence. Lazarus heard the table talk, and would have been keenly aware of when the servants threw out the scraps for the dogs, but it seems none was given to him. Or if it was given, then he had to fight the dogs for it and only got crumbs. What a sad indictment of their treatment of a fellow human being. There is an interesting contrast here between [ebebleto] and [pipto] the verb for falling from the table. This word is often used as a passive of [ballo]– to throw. Rather than falling from the table and the dogs eating the crumbs under the table, it is more likely that the food scraps were thrown to the dogs outside the gate – where Lazarus was. Lazarus was “thrown aside” and the food was “thrown out” – but not destined to meet. Now that is a telling statement. You can glean much from that when pondering it.
Interesting isn’t it, that Lazarus longs for the scraps from the table and remains unsatisfied. Does this remind you of anyone? I gave you the first clue yesterday. Remember the younger brother in the far away country longing to eat the scraps the pigs were given. Mmm, food for thought. One longs for scraps from the pigs and the other longs from scraps from the dogs. But there’s more. Keep the pot stirring.
Every day Lazarus is there, within earshot of these rich, self-indulgent men with an excess of food to throw away. Every day they pass him by and not one of them it seems, lifts a finger to help. Much less, the one who owns the mansion where they all congregate. One would think the rich man (“Dives”) would feel charitable toward a “neighbour”. But no, help is always withheld from him by those who could so easily help. They appear to prefer dogs to Lazarus. Some times when we find ourselves in the midst of a sea of poverty, it is so easy to either feign indifference or become immune and unseeing to the need around us. You see poverty so often that it becomes a part of the background and you just don’t “see” it anymore. Especially so, when the need is greater than the resources available to meet it. In this case however, the need of one man to eat, is lost in the rabble of dogs outside the gate.
Where does Lazarus’ help come from? As I suggested yesterday, some of you might be struck by the irony of Lazarus’ name and wondering why God didn’t help him. Who is this God anyway, when he can turn His back on His needy children? It’s like the Tui’s beer ads in NZ. “Lazarus: he whom God helps – yeah right!” Where are you God, when your people are hurting? When we most need You, You are not there. So we come up with sayings like, “God helps those who help themselves” etc. As I said in the last Gem – Most of us would conclude: “I don’t think so. It seems to me that Dives is helped by God and Lazarus isn’t getting any help at all. Where is God when it matters? Out to lunch.”
I am going to leave you again to allow this imagery to stew in your mind. That is what this story / parable was told for. It is just as shocking as the Prodigal Parable and all the shocks that it contained. I will lift the lid on it in the next Gem. I hope it is not stinking too much by then.
The world’s poor feel we ate the appetizers, entrees & dessert, then asked them to tea & said, ‘Let’s split the bill’.Freidman
Poverty is a way of thinking, long before it becomes a financial problem.Jeffrey Rachmat
Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.Mother Theresa
The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.John Berger
If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need- go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.John Steinbeck