"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.' Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.' "
- Luke 16:19-31
Yesterday, we read that Jesus taught, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery."
"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores." We remember that in this sequence of parables taught by Jesus, He's responding to criticism from the Pharisees and scribes that He eats and spends time in the company of sinners. Jesus first taught the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin in response, expressing the joy of God and the angels in heaven at the return of one sinner. Next He told the brilliant parable of the Prodigal Son, not only expressing the "Father's joy" at the return of the son who was lost to him, but also examining the resentment of the elder son who had never strayed. To His disciples He taught the parable of the Unjust Steward, who was able to "make friends" through forgiveness by unrighteous mammon and thus please his master by settling. In yesterday's reading, above, He taught what it was to be truly righteous, and that there is no circumstance in which the choice between what pleases God, and what seems to be in favor of "mammon" or whatever one treasures in this world, is always "on" -- the righteousness of God (and the Law) applies at all times. So the Pharisees receive from Jesus a teaching about righteousness that, in fact, surpasses their own. Now in these final verses of chapter 16, Jesus gives this parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. We note the image of the poor beggar who hopes even for crumbs from the rich man's table, echoing the words of the righteous Syrophoenician woman, who used a similar expression in pleading with Christ. She spoke of the "little dogs" under the table, but here it is the large dogs of the street who lick the sores of poor Lazarus, a fate as undistinguished and perhaps horrific as possible in this Middle Eastern setting.
"So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried." My study bible tells us that Abraham's bosom means heaven. Abraham is included here among the righteous because he's in stark contrast to the rich man. Abraham showed hospitality to strangers in Genesis 18:1-8. According to commentary of the Fathers, that the rich man . . . was buried is an illustration of the mercilessness of his soul, buried by the pleasures of the flesh. John Chrysostom has commented that he was already buried by his life of "couches, rugs, furnishings, sweet oils, perfumes, large quantities of wine, varieties of foods, and flatterers." That the rich man is unnamed means that he is ultimately forgotten (Psalm 9:6).
"Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.' " My study bible suggests that the rich man's appeal to Abraham as spiritual father isn't rejected; instead, Abraham accepts this role and calls the rich man son, showing himself to be compassionate even towards the most wretched of men. A notes says, "The great gulf is not a geographical divide, but the complete separation between virtue and wickedness, a separation that cannot be overcome after death. Note that torments have not changed the rich man's heart, as he still sees Lazarus as a servant existing for the sake of his own comfort." And what we really need to see taught to us in this parable is the thorough and present reality of the communion of saints. A man, not even a believer, calls out from Hades and converses with Saint Abraham! Neither time nor space, nor even the differences between them separates Abraham from communication with the rich man.
"Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.' " My study bible tells us that some Church Fathers see this parable as being set after the final judgment, as punishment and reward are received by the two men simultaneously. Others see it as being set after death but before Christ's second coming, since the man intercedes on behalf of his still living brothers. My study bible says that the torment the rich man is experiencing is a foretaste of his final state. From the perspective disclosed in this parable, we learn that souls of the departed have awareness of and concern for the state of those still alive in the world (see Luke 9:30-31, 2 Maccabees 15:12-16; Matthew 2:18). But it also indicates that the intercessions the wicked are heard but avail nothing (contrast this to the "prayer of a righteous mam" in James 5:16).
It's interesting to think about what this parable teaches us about Judgment. Whatever we might construe about it, the things my study bible tells us about communion of the saints (and communication with those who weren't exactly "saints"), the timeless and spaceless nature of the afterlife (the rich man freely communicates with Abraham across whatever gulf divides them and also regardless of when both lived in the world), and the "torment" of someone who failed to think seriously about righteousness in his lifetime (or possibly afterward as well, as my study bible pointed out), somehow all have to make an impression upon us to think about. Let's remember Jesus was addressing not only disciples but also His critics among the Pharisees and scribes, and particularly making a point about righteousness even when dealing with "unrighteous mammon" (the things the world treasures). Apparently this rich man spent all his time indulging himself without the slightest thought to caring about what went on outside of his doors. He neither seemed to listen to Scriptures nor pay much mind to anything but himself and his life. Now, we have to ask ourselves what "torment" means when someone is in a place where the common understanding of limitations of time and space don't apply. Surely this isn't about bodily torment. He's tormented in a "flame." But once again, as we've done before in commentary, we have to examine what a "flame" can mean. Flames aren't always negative things in Scripture; in fact, far from it. A flame represents the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (in the tongues of fire), and God appeared to Moses in the burning bush (when Moses was told the name I AM WHO I AM). What we can conclude from this is that where God is so fully present, God's righteous energy is tormenting to those who resist, who cannot behold and live with that flame, and that this, somehow, is the great gulf between those who love God and those who don't. My study bible importantly points out that this man still seems not to have repented or changed his heart; he just cares about "his own" (his brothers) and wants to send them a warning. But as Abraham replies, they have Moses and the prophets, and even if one rose the dead to warn them, they still wouldn't pay attention. It teaches us about "hardheartedness," and what it is to not have "ears to hear." To we who know of of His Resurrection, this one that may rise from the dead is understood as Christ. That parable, in this context, works as a warning about being "choked by the cares and things of the world" as in the parable of the Sower. It's not about shame or guilt but rather about our own complacency and a form of self-righteousness that isn't aware of the need to grow in this world, that our lives here are for something more than just self-satisfaction, that we are meant to become "like Him" as best we can, and most importantly, that like Moses and the righteous who've come before us, we want to be prepared to stand before that fire, on holy ground, to the best of our ability. Let us consider the things we put off, what we shut our inner "ears" to, where our real treasure is. Time, in this world, is precious. Let's invite the flame into our lives to teach us, shape us, and help us grow to awareness of holiness.