What we pursue: reflections

Lazarus-Rich-ManFrom Alan R. Culpepper [319-20]

Did the brothers ever get the message? We are not told, for that is the question the parable leaves us to answer. Each of us will write our own ending to the story.

1. Archbishop Richard Trench, writing on this parable more than a century ago, compared the diseases that afflicted the two characters:

The sin of Dives in its root is unbelief: hard-hearted contempt of the poor, luxurious squandering on self, are only the forms which his sin assumes. The seat of the disease is within; these are but the running sores which witness for the inward plague. He who believes not in an invisible world of righteousness and truth and spiritual joy, must place his hope in things which he sees, which he can handle, and taste, and smell. It is not of the essence of the matter, whether he hoards [like the rich fool, 12:16–21] or squanders [like the prodigal son, 15:11–32]: in either case he puts his trust in the world.

The rich man, therefore, characterizes the life of one who serves mammon because he has no confidence in God (cf. 16:13).

2. At the end of the Gospel, we are told of two whose hearts were “strangely warmed” when the Scriptures were interpreted to them. They were walking on the road to Emmaus. A stranger joined them and began to explain the law and prophets. When evening came, the two insisted that the weary stranger share their table with them. Then, as they shared their bread with the stranger, they recognized their Lord in the stranger. Perhaps if the rich man had tended Lazarus’s needs and invited him to share a meal with him, he too would have understood the Scriptures and recognized in him the Lord who had always been a stranger to him.

3. George Buttrick cautioned, however, that important as it is to share food, the parable is about an even deeper and more pervasive attitude of neighborliness toward others: “The story offers no support to the glib assumption that Dives would have fulfilled all duty had he dressed Lazarus’ sores and fed his hunger. True charity is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not spasmodic or superficial. Ameliorations such as food and medicine are necessary, but there is a more fundamental neighborliness.” “Fundamental neighborliness,” therefore, is the barometer of the soul, an indication of the attitude of one’s heart that is prized in the sight of God.

Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004. 319–320..

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