Fifth Sunday of Luke
The Rich Man and Lazarus – Luke (16: 19-31)
On the fifth Sunday of Luke, the Gospel reading tells of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Luke (16: 19-31).
The whole of the sixteenth chapter of Luke discusses money and wealth, and how to deal with them both. Beginning with the example of an “unjust steward’, Jesus speaks of money saying: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (wealth).” (Luke 16:13). The Pharisees scorned these words of Jesus; “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.” (Luke 16:15).
In another example, Jesus imparts a spiritual lesson on how to view and deal with money and wealth, through the lens of Christ Himself, on what basis the rich and poor will eventually be judged. In this example, the Lord Jesus describes two people of two completely contradictory social situations. The first, a wealthy man, wears the finest clothes and enjoys a daily array of banquets and possessions.
What must be noted here as striking is that Christ does not name this man; from the onset, he is an unknown, a nobody. If we are to reflect on the relevance of a “name” in the Holy Bible, we will understand the symbolism behind Christ’s silence around the naming of this anonymous rich man. It’s as if He wants to make the point that despite all this man’s riches and wealth, the essence of soul and quality of personality is still lacking, “for that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15). A name in the Gospel is not just a means to distinguish people from each other, but instead defines a person and their intrinsic qualities.
The other man in this parable is a poor man named Lazarus (not Lazarus, who was raised by Jesus from death). “Lazarus” is a Hebrew name and means “God is my Helper”, a name befitting this poor man who has put his hope and dependence on God. Christ uses the example of Lazarus to show that even a man who owned nothing, who was satisfied to fill up on the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, was still seen and known by God and by the people of that time.
Jesus tells us that it’s not wealth or money that is the issue, but the way in which the rich man handled his riches. His wealth made God dispensable to him and caused him to hide from his fellow man in fear of having to share his riches among them. God did not hold this man of wealth accountable for his multitude of mistakes, but rather He judged him on his blindness; he was presented with daily opportunities to help Lazarus, this poor man was “laid at his door”, but instead the rich man chose to ignore those opportunities; his own pleasures had blinded his vision and killed his conscience. To help us fully grasp just how much this rich man was completely devoid of empathy, Christ tells us that even the dogs were attuned to Lazarus’ pain, and “they have come and licked his sores,” hoping to reduce his pain. Christ shows that even the dogs have shown more mercy and compassion.
After a life of pleasure for the rich man, and a life of suffering and poverty for Lazarus, came death, which put an end to the first man’s richness and the misery of the second. When Lazarus died, the Angels carried him to the bosom of Abraham; to paradise. The rich man was buried in the ground. The realities of earthly life have now been altered and reversed in the other life of eternity. He who had “enjoyed” life is now tortured, and he who had been tortured is now comforted in the kingdom of heaven.
We read in the Gospel (Luke 1:53) “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.“ and in the Vespers at the service of the blessing of five loaves we chant: “Rich men have turned poor and gone hungry, but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good thing.” In these hymns is a reflection of the fate of the rich man and of Lazarus.
In this life, we know that Lazarus was laid by the door of the rich man and that Lazarus was continuously ignored, but now post-death, although there is a great chasm between them, the rich man once more sees Lazarus and recognizes him; this time he is the one asking for help, requesting “a drop of water”. Christ shows us that it is impossible for a man to change his condition and status after death. Life on earth is the time for repentance and righteous deeds and life after death is for judgment and accountability.
The man of wealth had another request, he was concerned about the status of his five brothers who were still of the earth and who seemed to be living their lives in the same manner as their brother, the rich man, had been. The rich-man implored Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers and guide them to the way, but Abraham’s answer was conclusive, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear from them.”
This man’s hope that his brothers would repent was rooted in a strong argument that “if one of the dead go to them, they repent.” But if we are to look to the Pharisees as an example, we can see that this hasn’t always been the case. The Pharisees witnessed with their own eyes the miracles of Lord Jesus, raising people from the dead, then He himself risen from the dead, and yet they did not believe Him. On what grounds were they now to believe someone coming to them from the dead? Abraham’s response was simple; these men of the earth have the teachings of the Holy Books about salvation, goodness, and virtues. They have the tools to lead a virtuous life. Let them read from the Scriptures and learn how to depend on God and how to love those who are near.
The inevitable fate of every rich person is not hell, nor for every poor, paradise. And the eventual measure of salvation is not poverty or wealth but is in how much we care about our needy brothers and sisters. Many people of wealth distribute their abundance to assist those in need and to support churches and charities. And on the other end, there are many who are poor and who continue to blame God for all their woes, they blaspheme His name in pride and despondency.
The lesson from this Gospel reading is a simple one; do not turn away from the poor laid at the door of your house, through the example and commandment of Christ, love your fellow brethren and act on this love through care. Keep in mind that whatever we carry in our stores, we share with the needy, and if we do this, we are doing it for the Lord Jesus Himself who said: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40).
† Metropolitan Basilios Kodseie