Act 3 – The Dialogues
To a first century hearer of the parable, the fates of the two would have been surprising for it went against the grain of the common wisdom: blessings in this life were a sign of God’s favor while illness, poverty, and hardship were a sign of God’s curses. Yet the one well “blessed” in his lifetime is now tormented in the netherworld (see the Note on 16:23 below) where he can see Lazarus and Abraham across the great chasm that divides them (v.26).
The First Exchange. 24 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.’ 25 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. 26 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.’
Some things never change. The rich man, who surprisingly knows Lazarus’ name, making his lack of charity perhaps worse, still thinks of Lazarus as someone below his station in life, someone to serve his personal needs: “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames” (v.24). The rich man stills thinks of himself as a “son of Abraham” since he addresses Abraham as “Father” (cf. 13:16; 19:9)
And he is. Abraham addresses him as “child” in v.25; however, such a relationship is no guarantee that one will dwell with Abraham in paradise. The theme of the Lucan “great reversals” (cf. Luke 6:20-26, the Beatitudes and other vv.) is now complete. Where table and gate once divided them in life, now a great chasm (v.26) separates them and confirms the finality of judgment – “prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.” In life indifference and apathy shut the rich man off from Lazarus and now no one can reach him.
“The irony of the story is that he now requests ‘mercy’ (eleos) who did not show mercy in almsgiving (eleemosyne) to the poor man” [Johnson, 252]. There are contrasting fates for both men in this section.
- The rich man had received good during his life, now torment. Lazarus had received evil during his life, now is comforted.
- The rich man had eaten his fill of good things during his life, now he can’t even get the water that would drip off a finger.
The Second Exchange. 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 come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’”
Here the rich man asks that Lazarus (again as servant) be sent back to warn the rich man’s surviving brothers. Seemingly accepting his fate, he at least gives evidence of thinking of another person. “But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them’” (v.29). Indeed, let us listen to them:
“If one of your kinsmen in any community is in need in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand to him in his need. Instead, you shall open your hand to him and freely lend him enough to meet his need” (Dt 15:7-8)
“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
The Third Exchange. 30 He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 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.’”
Apparently the rich man realizes that his brothers have little hope of repenting and turning from the very life that lead to the rich man’s fate. The call to repentance has been consistent within Luke’s gospel. John the Baptist preach repentance (3:3, 8). Jesus calls people to repentance (5:32), even declaring woes upon Chorazin and Bethsaida for their failure to repent (10:13) when even Nineveh repented (11:32) Jesus warned the crowds that unless they repented they would perish like the Galileans at Pilate’s hand or people in Jerusalem upon whom a tower fell (13:3,5). Even close at hand, the parable of the Prodigal Son is a call to repentance as is the parable of the Dishonest Steward.
The Pharisees who heard this parable (16:14-18) are the ones to whom this third exchange is directed, but the message extends to all who love money (mammon) more than God. The ones who will not hear the Word of God (via Moses and the prophets) or the Word of God enfleshed, they even rising from the dead will be convincing.
The question that lingers for Luke’s church and our own – how could it be that one would rise from the dead and still some refuse to believe, repent and reform their lives?
Luke 16:24 water…cool my tongue: This reference to thirst echoes several OT passages in which thirst is an image of divine judgment (cf. Isa. 5:13; 50:2; 65:13; Hos. 2:3; 2 Esd. 8:59; 1 En. 22:9)
Luke 16:26 chasm: chásma – In this only NT occurrence a figurative meaning of χάσμα ‘yawning,’ taken to be a deep, unbridgeable valley or trough between two points. The reference is to the impassable space between two parts of the supernatural abode of the dead.
Luke 16:30 if someone from the dead: The notion that the dead can contact the living, especially through dreams, echoes 1 Sam. 28:6–19; 2 Kings 21:6; Isa. 8:19.
Luke 16: 31 If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets: “Moses” means ‘the writings of Moses’, and in combination with “the prophets” points to the whole of Scripture. There is no shortage of OT citations for the biblical warrant of righteous treatment towards the poor – to list but a few: cf. Deut. 14:28–29; 15:1–3, 7–12; 22:1–2; 23:19; 24:7–15, 19–21; 25:13–14; Isa. 3:14–15; 5:7–8; 10:1–3; 32:6–7; 58:3, 6–10; Jer. 5:26–28; 7:5–6; Ezek. 18:12–18; 33:15; Amos 2:6–8; 5:11–12; 8:4–6; Mic. 2:1–2; 3:1–3; 6:10–11; Zech. 7:9–10; Mal. 3:5.
- K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) pp. 345
- Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 314-20
- Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952) pp.424-27. The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament.
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 598-610
- Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 249-53
- Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) pp. 966-7
- Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 269-71
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com
Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985).
- Jeremias, hádēs, Vol. I:146-49
- Hauck, ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, Vol. I:526-29
- Meyer, kólpos, Vol. III:824-26
- Hauck, ptōchós, Vol. VI:885-87
Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990-c1993) – chortazō, Vol. 3:470
David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996, c1992) – Frederick W. Danker, ˒argāmān, Vol. 5:557
Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989) – chásma, Vol. 1:11.
Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © available at http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm