The roles are reversed

This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we looked at the details of the first movement of the reading in which the Rich Man and Lazarus are introduced and their way of life is described – Act 1, if you will. Today, we see the harvest from their lives, a second Act, in which “The Rich Become Poor and the Poor Become Rich.”

The Act is briefly told and simply describes the fate of our two characters. “When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and from the netherworld, where he was in torment…” (vv.22-23a). We are not told how Lazarus died. Was it starvation? Again we are reminded of Jesus’ admonition to the Pharisees. “Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (14:12-14).  Was it exposure and hypothermia while the rich man slept nearby? Infected sores while the rich enjoyed baths and healing ointments? Perhaps weakened and unable to defend himself, the dogs took his life.

However his life ends, Lazarus is taken by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. Nothing is said of a burial which brings to mind the bodily translations of Enoch (Gen 5:24), Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) and Moses (Jewish legends) to their eternal rewards. Neglected by others, Lazarus is prized in the sight of God.

The rich man also died – again we are left to speculate by what cause – but notably, he is buried, perhaps “thrown” into his grave as was Lazarus at the gate.


Notes – again some interesting notes on some technical aspects of the text.

he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham (v.22): The traditional translation takes kólpos (bosom, lap) to mean “bosom” although elsewhere (6:34) the term is translated as “lap.” The expression “bosom of Abraham” is found only in Luke and may derive from the ancient Biblical idea of being gathered to one’s people at death (cf.  Gen 49:3; Num 27:13; Judges 2:10) – especially pointing to Abraham the Father of the faithful.

In Jewish legends regarding the martyrdom of the mother and her seven sons (2 Maccabees 7), the martyrs were brought to the bosom of Abraham, a place the legends regard as the place of highest bliss.

the netherworld (v.23): hádēs is normally a colorless term, signifying the abode of all the departed whether good or bad – most often used to translate the Hebrew Sheol, the realm of the dead. In the OT this term came to denote the place of temporary sojourn prior to resurrection (cf. Is. 26:19).  In later Judaism, hádēs is the place the good were separated from the bad (Eth. En. 22) and where the good were finally thought to be comforted and content.

In the New Testament era the association of hádēs with the dead continues but begins to be understood differently in the light of the Resurrection – the term is never used of the saved. Here it seems to be equivalent to Gehenna, the place of punishment, for the rich man was in torment. Nonetheless, one goes down into Hades (Mt. 11:23; 12:40), but stay is limited (Rev. 20:13). Sometimes all the dead seem to be in Hades (Acts 2:27), but elsewhere believers are in paradise, or with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), or under the altar (Rev. 7:9); hádēs is sometimes just the abode of the wicked (Rev. 20:13-14).  Scripture is clear that Jesus is the Lord of Hades (Mt. 16:18; Acts 2:31). Distinctive here is that Christ preached in Hades (1 Pet. 3: 19ff.) and that he has the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:18).

Image Credit: Lazarus and Dives, illumination from the 11th century Codex Aureus of Echternach, Public Domain at Wikipedia

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