Tuesday: The Rich Man and Lazarus, Part II
The plot thickens, as we continue with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus:
The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The
rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he
looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out,
‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger
in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham
said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things,
and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are
in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so
that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can
cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s
house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not
also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the
prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if
someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do
not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if
someone rises from the dead’” (Luke 16:22-31).
Part of the art of this story concerns what we might think of as the “staging” of the
• In the first scene, yesterday, the rich man and Lazarus were very near to one
another. In fact, the rich man had to practically stumble over Lazarus to go in or
out of his house.
• But, though both have died, they are now far away from one another.
• Today the storyteller has invited us to see things that only God can see, the realities of what happens after death.
• Here there is a great gulf that separates the rich man (who now suffers the flames
of Hades) from Lazarus (cradled in the comfort of Abraham’s arms). But it appears that the rich man has not yet learned his lesson.
• He sees Lazarus as someone whose role is to serve him, by dipping his finger into
cool water and crossing the gulf to slake the rich man’s terrible thirst.
• With a note of sadness, Abraham says to the rich man, “Child, remember that
during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner
evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony….”
• There is even a hint that those who are with Abraham are so imbued with
compassion that their dearest desire would be to cross over to care for those who
are in Hades (“those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so”), but
the chasm between them makes that impossible. The story ends with the rich man’s request to warn his brothers, and Abraham’s ironic response: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
• Jesus’ teaching is completely consistent with that of Moses and the prophets, and
the Pharisees, listening to Jesus’ story, are presumably teachers of the scriptures.
• Why, then, do you suppose they continue to be “lovers of money,” rather than
people who prize what God prizes?
Questions for Reflection
• Jesus opens up the realm of life after death, to show us the full scope of God’s
justice. But the real force of this parable occurs in imagining how the story could
have had a different ending: What if the rich man had stopped and cared for
Lazarus? Play this story out in your mind. What would the rich man do, exactly?
How might Lazarus have responded? Who else would have been affected by their
• How many different excuses do we make for not serving our nearest neighbor in
need? What fears keep us from serving our neighbor?
• This is a very human-scale, person-to-person story of the need for compassion, but some of the most serious needs that face us, and that require godly wisdom, are
larger and farther away. What does this story tell us about how God might work
through us as voters or legislators? as churches? as communities of volunteers? as
neighbors on a global scale?
Jesus, embodiment of God’s compassion, I want to follow you. I want to have your
heart toward my neighbor. Burn away the fears that keep me from serving those
who need me, and give me the courage of a learner. In your holy Name I pray. Amen.