Parable of the rich man and Lazarus, told by Jesus.
Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The beggar died, and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried.
In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom. He cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.”
But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish. Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that no one may cross over from there to us.”
He said, “I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house; for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.“
But Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.”
He said, “No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
He said to him, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.”
One of the things I’ve learned from writing weekly devotions over the last seven months is that biblical passages can stretch further than we sometimes immediately see in the text. Sometimes we need to stretch them so that they speak to our hearts.
This Sunday’s parable is a good example.
We should not be surprised that this parable expresses God’s unrelenting care and compassion for the poor and vulnerable. This is a theme that is consistently present in Scripture, but we are generally pretty inconsistent in our thoughts and actions. It is not a parable to tell us that we can work our way to heaven, but to help us understand our calling as children of God, and followers of Jesus Christ.
I want now to invite you to stretch the parable by imagining a different ending. The gulch between the rich man and Lazarus in heaven is much like the one that existed between them here on earth. On earth the rich man made no attempt to relieve the suffering of Lazarus, and he surely knew him because he was always visibly present at his gate. In the afterlife he recognizes Lazarus and calls him by name. Yet, he continues to treat Lazarus like he is a servant. When he asks Abraham to send him to bring a drop of water and is denied, he wants him to go warn his brothers not to make the same mistakes he has made by not caring for the poor. He still does not treat Lazarus as a human being, as one deserving of compassion. It seems he has only learned that he made some mistakes that did not turn out well for him.
So here is the stretch.
Abraham says that the rich man’s brothers would not believe even if a man who rises from the dead goes to them. Yet, we have seen a man put to death for caring for the poor, for announcing God’s mercy for all, and for daring to forgive the sins of any. We have heard the testimony that this man was raised from the dead and vindicated by God as the supreme incarnation of God’s love and God’s kingdom.
Christ did rise from the dead
We have come to believe in Christ who rose from the dead and we have followed him. He wasn’t just any man, he is God himself in the flesh, and he calls us to love others as he has loved us.
What relief can we bring?
When I think about how small the requests of the rich man are: a drop of water, and a messenger to tell others, I wonder why we can’t at least do these same things? Why can’t we help bring relief to those who are suffering and are in need and tell everyone we meet that God wants us to care for each other?
In a children’s sermon I once gave a dollar bill to each of the children and told them it was all theirs. Then I asked them if they each had a Bible and if they read it or someone read it to them. Every child answered yes. I then told them about children in Africa who had never had a Bible of their own, and longed for getting one to read in their language. I shared with them that it was possible to give one of these children a Bible for $10.00. I had only given them one dollar, and if they wanted to give that dollar to help buy a Bible for someone in Africa they could put it in the envelope I gave them and put it in the offering. I also stressed that the choice was theirs, because I had given the dollar to them as a gift to do with as they pleased. The offering attendants gave me all the envelopes and some extra checks written by parents and others. All the envelopes were returned with extra money in them. A total of $488.00 was given to the Bibles for Africa Project, which is a part of Spiritual Renewal Ministries. I was amazed that so many adults had actually listened to the children’s sermon and contributed to the Bible project that I shared with them that day.
This parable helps to remind us that the needs in our world are always present. The need for clean water, the need for food, the need of medicine and doctors, the need for schools, and the desperate need for God’s Word to be shared in the native language of the people. We do not need to look far to find those who are in desperate need even in our own communities.
A drop of water, and a messenger can go a long way in loving our neighbor.
- How are you challenged by this parable of Jesus to bring assistance to those who are in need?
- What persons, people, or concerns tug at your heart to move you to serve those who are in need?
- How can you get others to join you in helping those who need to know that God loves them?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.