“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.’Luke 16:22-26
Notice how this parable is structured. These two stories are closely contrasted. It is structured like a play switching scenes or a poem with alternating stanzas. A / A’, B / B’, C / C’.
- In Life / Lazarus in pain / Rich Man banqueting
- In Death / Lazarus banqueting / Rich Man in pain
Everything about these two is contrasted. They are in sync. Their lives are inexorably juxtaposed. Life has thrown them together. Yes, that’s right, as Jesus said, “The poor, you will always have with you.” They are your NEIGHBOURS. Your at-the-elbow ones. (See Gem 947). What will you do about it? They were together in life but separated by a gulf of attitude. They die at the same time and are now separated by a gulf that God has determined. Be careful, your attitude will determine your altitude.
Notice the contrast when they die. Lazarus is carried by angels to be with Abraham. The very place the rich man has been taught he was goIng to as a son of Abraham. But the text just simply says, ‘he was buried and his soul went to the place of the dead’. But for the rich man, the place he has been told was the place of the dead for him, was at Abraham’s Bosom. Many commentators and preachers make much of the difference between Lazarus carried by angels to Abraham, and the rich taken to the grave. Interesting isn’t it. In life, the poor man was likely not given a proper burial. We are not supposed to think that the poor man wasn’t buried. Some have it figured that this is Lazarus of Bethany we are talking about. There are some problems with that but I am not going to take the time to analyse it now. I am keeping the main thing, the main thing, as I told you I would. Some see this as the second time Lazarus dies and he is taken by angels to Abraham. Others think this is his second resurrection. If indeed, this is the Lazarus we know from Bethany who has been resurrected once already, then maybe there is a justification for thinking Abraham could send him with the message to the family. After all, it has happened once already. But I won’t take it that far. I am not convinced that is what is being said. I don’t want to read into the text too much. Although it would be amazing if Jesus was saying that.
No, we would expect Lazarus to die as usual and be buried, just like the rich man. Death is a great leveller.It comes to all people. All will be laid to rest in death, rich and poor alike. Lazarus would have been buried, even though he had no land for a burial plot. He would likely be buried in a commoners grave. The emphasis of Jesus’ story is that Lazarus went where the rich man thought he was going and the rich man went to the grave. His soul went to the place of the dead.
Now, we have an interesting part of the story. “. . . 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.'”
Well, look at that! The rich man is running true to form. Still ordering people around. His first thought regarding Lazarus is to order him around. In fact, he doesn’t even talk to Lazarus. He talks to the intermediary, Abraham. Is that because he can’t talk across the divide to Lazarus and must go through Abraham? No, this is just a story to teach some principles. We are not dealing with a reality in the afterlife. We are dealing with something to teach principles in this current life. Rather, I think it is because even in death the Rich Man won’t talk to Lazarus. He won’t lower himself to talk to “human trash” even in death. So he asks Abraham to send Lazarus. Once a pauper always a servant it seems. Why would this man not be concerned for how he treated Lazarus in life? Why would he not ask for forgiveness for what he did to him or what he didn’t do for him? Isn’t that the main point? The first words out of his mouth ought to have been, “Please forgive me Lazarus, for the way I treated you.” But once an arrogant, unfeeling, rich man; always an arrogant, unfeeling, rich man. The issue is not his money, the issue is his attitude to his neighbour. The issue is not the Pharisees’ money. The issue is their attitude to the poor, the underprivileged, the sick and the lame. The very people the Law of God encourages them to take care of. But by their skilful manoeuvring they manage to get around that.
Notice something even more telling. One would think that “Dives” didn’t know Lazarus in life or know about him. Lazarus was totally ignored, despite the fact that “Dives” and his friends virtually had to trip over him to get in the gate. But when he looks across the great chasm in the afterlife, he sees Abraham and he recognizes Lazarus. He sees Abraham in the distance and knows who he is. He doesn’t say to Abraham, “Send that guy with you over to me.” Rather he says, “Send Lazarus . . . ” Lazarus could be forgiven for yelling out, “Oh, so you know me now do you? Every day you ignored me and never looked at me. I didn’t think you even knew my name. But now, now that I am here and you are there, you know me.” We could even forgive Lazarus for saying, “To hell with you.” Clearly, “Dives” has known exactly who Lazarus was, he just chose to ignore him. As I said at the time, it is impossible that this rich man would not know about the poor beggar at his gate. He would have to know about him because friends who came to dine on a daily basis, would have informed him. No, now that he is suffering in torment he knows him.
Funny isn’t it, how suddenly money, a change of fortunes or status or power, can result in us having a lot of new “friends”. Oh, fair weather friends at best. Cupboard love, my mum called it. Love or friendship for what we can get from it. “No, sorry, it’s a bit late now. You had your chance to be my friend and now the moment has been lost forever.” Notice in the second half of the Parable, the Rich Man uses Abraham as an intermediary. The rich man does not address Lazarus directly. He always asks something of Lazarus through Abraham. He doesn’t talk to Lazarus himself even once.
Still more shocks and surprises in the next Gem. Keep your purple robes on but cover your wounds; especially your wounds of the heart. Get healing for them and forgive those whom you ought to forgive in life. Don’t wait till death.
The Bible tells us to love our neighbours and also to love our enemies: probably because generally they are the same people.G K Chesterton
How can you love the world if you can’t love the one at your elbow?Ian Vail
Love thy neighbour is not a piece of advice, it’s a command.Bono
You know that “Love thy neighbour” thing. I meant it.God
If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend you hate.Nikka, age 6
A recipe for having friends: Be one.Anon
There are no traffic jams in the second mile.Anon