Lazarus and the Rich Man
Ordinary 26 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 16: 19 — 31
Luke 16 opened with the parable of the shrewd manager. It was followed by a number of sayings of Jesus St. Luke had gathered, and brought to an emphatic ending with “You cannot serve both God and Money”. Verse 14 says, “The Pharisees who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus”. These were a specific section of the Pharisees — who were scribes and had an “on-again, off-again” association of convenience with the Court of Herod Antipas (the Herodians) and skilfully established (and went to any means to protect) their own privileged mode of life. The reference, in Greek, “philaguroi huparchontes” is thus describing a specific set of Pharisees who pursued riches and a privileged way of life permanently. It does not refer to the movement as a whole (among whom there were many highly esteemed people) but to the relatively small group who had hijacked authority, especially in relation to Temple taxes, and, under Herod, made the most of it to enrich themselves. Their loose association with the Herodians was useful also in their attempts to get rid of Jesus.
Again we see our Messiah, the Lord Jesus go out of his way and thus paint a very clear picture before their eyes of this clique of Pharisees, to show them where they were heading. He therefore told them the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The writer of Luke does not refer to the story as a parable, but it has always been taken as such.
Our Lord also wishes to show in the parable, or example, which
follows, the difference between true Israelites who were really
faithful to the Law and the Prophets, and the false ones, like
those Pharisees who cited the Law and the Prophets only when
it was to their advantage, and who pretended a justice and an
observance which did not belong to them. (Callan, O.P.)
The parable is not told to insult them or even to “give them a taste of their own medicine.” Rather Jesus seeks to bring them to their senses. There were after all, many other distinguished (often wealthy) and devout members of the Pharisees whom they could emulate without aligning themselves with Herod, of all people!
Some Reflections On Our Text
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments
and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.
Our Lord has the pro-Herodians appropriately defined.
The parable is directed against certain Pharisees, who are called
covetous or lovers of wealth, and who derided our Lord (verse 14)
for warning them against the dangers of riches. But both in the
Pharisees and in the rich man in the parable, the sin primarily
condemned, the evil root out of which their other sins grew, is
their lack of faith, of real belief in God and in spiritual things, and
their consequent attachment to worldly possessions.
These Pharisees were covetous, but they are nowhere charged
with excess and prodigality in living; many of them, on the
contrary, were austere ascetics. Their covetousness consisted
in undue gathering and hoarding of wealth, rather than in undue
pursuit of pleasure. The primary intention, therefore, of this
parable is to teach the dreadful consequences of unbelief in God
and spiritual things, and of attachment to the things of the world.
Inordinate self-indulgence, the abuse of wealth and
hard-heartedness towards the poor, which were sins of the rich
man in the parable, are the logical results of unbelief in God.
(From the Four Gospels by C. Callan, O.P.
— with minor modification for 21st Century Internet use.)
Verses 20 and 21
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus,
covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from
the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus (a Greek form of the Hebrew El Azar, “God has helped”.) The gate was high and ornamented, indicating the luxury of the rich man’s dwelling. Lazarus was placed there each day, as he could not move himself. He was covered with sores which were obvious evidence of hopelessly inadequate nutrition, and the need for extensive treatment, both of which were beyond families in Palestine who could not get work.
The rich man would have seen Lazarus; who could miss such a sight! But obviously, he never saw the poor man’s dreadful plight. One’s attitudes can so easily dull one’s sensitivity and ability to perceive the obvious. This man was totally unmoved by the sight of Lazarus. If he had been asked about Lazarus he would quite likely have remarked that he never really noticed much about him.
Lazarus would have been grateful to receive any bits of food tossed to him; but he received nothing to eat, nor anyone’s help to cope with the pain of his wretched skin condition. The only soothing he received was from the dogs, which came and licked his sores. Since the dog was in the East an unclean animal it is clear that the kindest attention the poor man received was from a source the self-righteous, self-appointed religious authorities (who lived off others) despised.
This situation continued over a long period, but Lazarus was never heard to complain. He was a true son of Abraham.
When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels
to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried,
Thus when the poor man died he was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. This is a Jewish figure of speech, the equivalent of the old biblical phrase ‘gathered to his fathers’, i.e. to the Patriarchs (Judges 2: 10).
This was a familiar phrase among the Jews to express intimate
relationship, innermost communion. The Jews thought that all
true believers were taken after death into Abraham’s bosom,
i.e., into intimate companionship with the father of their race.
The rich man also died and was buried.
We need to take note that our Lord does not seek to teach here in detail the true nature of life after death; He accommodates his story to the commonly held Jewish ideas of that time.
Verses 23 and 24
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and
cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
The extent of this formerly rich man’s horrific pain is reflected in the intimation that even a single drop of water from the finger of Lazarus would bring incalculable relief. Isn’t it interesting that at last he notices Lazarus and expects him to come to his aid immediately upon request.
Verses 25 and 26
Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise
received what was bad; but now he is comforted here,
whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from
our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
So Abraham replies in a manner implying: “You chose to strive exclusively after worldly things and amass nothing for heaven. That was your choice, and you received everything you wanted; but even in great hardship, Lazarus chose not to complain of any injustice, or even make demands of anyone else. He just sat at your gate daily and hoped for alms from any kind person. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone crossing from either side”. (Implying destiny of the saved and lost is unalterable. Remember, this is Abraham the great Patriarch who is speaking.)
The rich man was condemned not because he possessed riches:
but because he abused them. Many of the saints had great
possessions, but used them for good ends. Lazarus was rewarded
not because he was poor and in suffering, but because of his
poverty of spirit, his patience and resignation — all of which
were the result of his faith. (Callan, O.P.)
Verses 27 and 28
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house,
for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
So, swallowing his pride, yet again he asks for the help of Lazarus, and even trusts him for the message he could give to his brothers, who obviously, carried on the way this man did. There is still no sign that he had any thought of alleviating the suffering of the needy; only the future which lay ahead for his brothers.
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
“So, they have Moses and the prophets;” i.e., they have God’s inspired word in the Old Testament, which teaches everything sufficient for their salvation. By this comment he reminded Lazarus that the Law and the Prophets are read daily in the Temple and synagogues. In these Holy Scriptures is taught the way of salvation. If they would but listen and obey these they would not end up where this rich man is. There is no excuse for losing the chance to be saved, but it must be taken in the moments God offers it throughout life on earth.
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead
goes to them, they will repent.’
In other words, they wouldn’t be satisfied listening to the Holy Scriptures chanted during the Divine Worship and meditating on the meaning so that they could be put into practice as God intended. Oh no, they wanted to see miracles happen before their eyes, and feel compelled to take notice. People with this mindset will never hear the quiet voice of God within. They need their senses to be overwhelmed before they will follow.
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead’.”
Thus Abraham reflects a different set of values, which are imbedded in the very Scriptures he extols:
Therefore, if they would not believe the word of God as revealed
through Moses and the prophets, neither would they believe anyone
who would come back from the dead, or as Abraham put it, prophetically
foreseeing the Resurrection of Christ, “if one rise again from the dead.”
A similar answer might be given to the unbelievers today. They have the
revelations of the New Testament and the infallible teaching of Christ’s
Church; if they do not believe these, neither would they believe anyone
coming back from the spirit world. (Callan, O.P.)
The abruptness of the end of the parable is part of our Lord’s therapy. He leaves them, hoping they, and indeed His own disciples, would continue to reflect on the message contained in His lesson.
If this parable had been meant only for one small (though powerful) offshoot group of selfish and elitist religious authorities, it may never have been selected from all the accounts and stories St. Luke had at his disposal to draw from. Clearly, the early Church kept the parable constantly before them, because they realised they could also easily go down the same path unless they listened constantly to its inner message.
There are two main conclusions for our on-going reflection:
1. the proper use of whatever wealth we are given;
2. the need for daily meditation on the Word of God in
preference to seeking signs and wonders.
1. Misuse of Wealth.
If we were to, even indirectly, attribute the need for the parable only to the attitudes of some or all of the Pharisees, we would miss the point. It is too convenient to make them into a scapegoat — or even to transfer the focus to “the rich” (the rich perhaps never being us, but only those who possess more than us).
Nowhere in this parable does Abraham say it was wrong for the man to wealthy. After all, Abraham was one of the wealthiest people ever to live. It is the abuse of riches and the neglect of the needy neighbour that is here condemned so unconditionally. It would not have mattered whose gate Lazarus lay beside; the giving of alms to the needy is something Jesus stressed for all His disciples to be most vigilant about. Opening our purse for those in need is one of the hardest things to do!
2. Meditation on the Word of God
Finally, there is a second major lesson within this amazing story: a spectacular miracle will not penetrate the soul like daily meditation on the Word of God. This is earth-shattering, but it is the teaching of Jesus.
In our parable, Jesus links seeing Lazarus daily but not seeing his needs, to hearing the Scriptures read out daily but not hearing the message. The small band Jesus is directing His parable towards were very clever at quoting Scripture from rote memory but had never begun to learn the meaning let alone apply it. This problem has daunted the Judaeo-Christian Faith for millenia.
In our Lord’s time people did not have Bibles at home. The last sentence of his parable refers to hearing Moses and the Prophets proclaimed, in fact chanted during the dignified worship daily in the synagogues in an atmosphere of reverence and focussed attention. At such times the devout would listen, take to heart, and continue through the day to “digest spiritually”.
This tradition has carried over into the Christian Church, where passages from the Old Testament, the Epistles and Gospels are read or chanted daily with great solemnity. Those fortunate enough to have copies can read them again later and allow God’s Word to echo within them.
Jesus calls for reverent listening to the Scriptures at the depths of our being so that we are nourished and enabled to hear the true message. This must be one of the clearest warnings ever given by Jesus!!! Failure to heed it will see countless people trying to demand miracles which will titillate the senses and compel them to believe. Inherent in the ending of this parable is the warning that people who constantly crave signs and wonders will never be satisfied listening for the “still small voice” within, and they will continue to hold a distorted view of Biblical teaching and priorities. Even our Lord did not know how to sound the warning any more forcefully, as He tried to steer His followers away from false religion. It is something we all have to take notice of. Let’s allow Psalm 119 to steer us towards true religion.
From Psalm 119
1. How blessed are those whose way is blameless,
Who walk in the law of the LORD.
2. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies,
Who seek Him with all their heart.
62. At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You
Because of Your righteous ordinances.
97. O how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
105. Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
147. I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I wait for Your words.
163. I hate and despise falsehood,
But I love Your law.
Amen. (New American Bible)
Our Blessed Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, was the perfect example of living the words of this Psalm, and He showed this to be so during the whole of His life.
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Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
Lazarus and The Rich Man
Ordinary 26 Year C Luke 16: 19 — 31
1. The Pharisee movement contained many wonderful, truly devout and
2. When the rich man finally came to his senses, and realised he had
To this the Patriarch replies, “If they won’t listen to God’s Word delivered
3. The Sacred Liturgy presents a most carefully crafted laying out of Holy
This is at the heart of our Messiah’s call to us to share His Word — which,
Let us pray for one another to have the courage to “just do it” for the Lord’s
Luke 16: 19 — 34
19 12 “There was a rich man 13 who dressed in purple garments and fine
20 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered
21 who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from
22 When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the
23 and from the netherworld 14, where he was in torment, he raised
24 And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send
25 Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what
26 Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to
27 He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house,
28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too
29 But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let
30 15 He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead
31 Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the
12 [19-31] The parable of the rich man and Lazarus again illustrates Luke’s concern with Jesus’ attitude toward the rich and the poor. The reversal of the fates of the rich man and Lazarus (⇒ Luke 16:22-23) illustrates the teachings of Jesus in Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” (⇒ Luke 6:20-21, ⇒ 24-25).
13  The oldest Greek manuscript of Luke dating from ca. A.D. 175-225 records the name of the rich man as an abbreviated form of “Nineveh,” but there is very little textual support in other manuscripts for this reading. “Dives” of popular tradition is the Latin Vulgate’s translation for “rich man.” (⇒ Luke 16:19-31)
15 [30-31] A foreshadowing in Luke’s gospel of the rejection of the call to repentance even after Jesus’ resurrection.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
The Use of Imagery In Luke 16: 19 — 31
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Ordinary 25 Year C
In this parable, which Luke alone records, Christ returns to the theme of the
(From A Commentary on the New Testament — St. Luke, by John Steinmueller, 1942.)