This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we considered the passing of the parable’s characters from life into death and the reversal of roles that ensued. In the beginning post it was said that this gospel could be considered as a play in three acts. We’ve now arrived at Act 3. This third movement was described as the narration giving way to dialogue between the rich man and Abraham in three exchanges. The topics of the exchange are: the finality of judgment, the witness of Moses and the prophets, and the blindness that prevents even the Resurrection from leading to conversion.
It should be noted that 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 where he can see Lazarus and Abraham across the great chasm that divides them (v.26). The content of the first exchange is:
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.
Image Credit: Lazarus and Dives, illumination from the 11th century Codex Aureus of Echternach, Public Domain at Wikipedia