“…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.…” Such are words spoken about Lazarus and the rich man, traditionally known as Dives. The words describe their fates in the afterlife: Lazarus comforted by Abraham while Dives languishes in a hellish afterlife. But here is the thing – the chasm really wasn’t new. Continue reading
This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we heard the second of the three exchanges between the rich man and Abraham in which it is requested that Lazarus be sent to warn the brothers of the rich man about what fate awaits them. Abraham notes that their fate – good and bad – has already been well explained by the prophets. Continue reading
This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we listened to the first exchange between the Rich Man and Abraham in which the former cries out for mercy and relief from his torment in the netherworld. Today, the dialogue continues: 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.’” Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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.” Continue reading
This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we took a moment to consider the flow of Sunday gospels leading to the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There is a continuity of teaching which collects thoughts on misplaced priorities, earthly wealth, being truly lost, counting the cost, and what fate awaits those who are lovers of what matters not to God. With all that in mind, today, we look at the details of the first movement of the reading.
Culpepper well describes this parable as a drama in three acts (Luke, 316):
- Act 1 – a tableau during which the characters are introduced and their way of life is described, but nothing happens
- Act 2 – the rich become poor and the poor become rich as each character has died and received their eternal reward
- Act 3 – narration give way to dialogue, but between the rich man and Abraham, in three exchanges:
- about the finality of judgment
- about the witness of Moses and the prophets
- about the blindness that prevents even the Resurrection from leading to conversion
Act 1 – The Tableau
The first three verses contain a sharp contrast in description between Lazarus and the unnamed “lover of money.”
- The rich man is clothed in purple and fine linen where Lazarus is covered with sores or ulcers
- The rich man “dined sumptuously each day” while Lazarus longed to eat what fell from the table, but can’t.
- The rich man lives a privileged life while Lazarus ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, literally, “had been thrown before the gate” of the rich man’s house.
It is perhaps noteworthy that the first word in a Greek phrase is a position of stress, as is the last word in a phrase. Even the Lucan grammar seems to stress the contrast between the two men:
- The first word in v. 19 is anthropos = “a person” and the last word in the phrase is plousios = “rich”
- where the first word in v. 20 is ptochos = “poor,” the last word in the phrase is “Lazarus,” a name meaning “God helps”
Perhaps Luke is making the point that “the poor” were not considered “people;” as well the rich depend upon themselves whereas the poor depend on God.
The rich man is splendidly robed and feasts on the finest foods (see Note below re: v.19) – a clear echo of the parable of the Rich Fool who is well satisfied: “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” (12:19). As the parable makes clear the flash and pomp of the rich man’s life in no way reflects the eternal glory that awaits the faithful.
Lazarus is the only character ever named in a parable. As mentioned above, the name means “God helps” and thus foreshadows Lazarus’ liberation even as its ironically contrasts his life – no one in this life helps Lazarus. He has been cast away at the rich man’s gate. He is a cripple beggar covered with sores and in the end dies. Green  comments about names:
… the fact that this poor, crippled man has a name at all is highly significant. The poor man’s only claim to status is that he is named in the story; this alone raises the hope that there is more to his story than that of being subhuman. The wealthy man, on the other hand, has no name; perhaps this is Jesus’ way of inviting his money-loving listeners to provide their own!
In our tableau the two characters live with a “stone’s throw” of each other and yet they never meet, never speak, nor are in any way neighbors. One is reminded of Jesus’ question to scribe (scholar of the law) in the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Which of these three [priest, Levite, Samaritan], in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?’ He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Our two main characters lived entirely separate lives, divided at table and divided by a gate.
Some interesting notes on some technical aspects of the text. In opening verses (19-20) there is much revealed in the words used:
- rich man: The oldest Greek manuscript of Luke dating from ca. A.D. 175–225 records the name of the rich man as an abbreviated form of “Nineveh,” but there is very little textual support in other manuscripts for this reading. The rich man is popularly known as “Dives” which is the Latin Vulgate’s translation for “rich man.”
- lying at his door: The Greek is ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, literally, “had been thrown before the gate.” The verb is passive, thus others (unnamed) dumped Lazarus at the rich man’s gate – perhaps other rich people who did want Lazarus at their gate? friends of Lazarus?
- poor man: the use of the word ptōchós (poor, destitute) in such close conjunction with ploúsios (wealthy, rich) gives us the suggestion that this parable is a narrative rendering of the first Beatitude and woe of Luke 6:20-24.
- Lazarus: The name of Lazarus, an abbreviated transcription of El-azar (“God helps”), appears in the NT only in the gospel of John and this parable. It is the only proper name to appear in a NT parable attributed to Jesus.
Image credit: Lazarus and Dives, illumination from the 11th century Codex Aureus of Echternach, Public Domain at Wikipedia
This coming Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Lectionary Cycle C. The gospel is the well-known parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). It is perhaps good to pause and consider the flow of the Sunday gospels which have brought us to this point. Can you recall them? Continue reading
19 “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. 20 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. 22 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, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 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 Continue reading
From 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). Continue reading
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.’ Continue reading