Jesus had been teaching his disciples on the subject of using material wealth to make eternal friends for themselves and to lay up treasures in heaven.
The Pharisees were close by listening as usual to try to find Jesus in a tricky situation, or to put him in one.
They were, of course, known to be lovers of money (verse 14) and ridiculed and mocked Jesus’ teaching on the subject.
Jesus called them out saying, “You justify yourselves before men, but God knows your heart. What is accepted and seen as valued in the eyes of man is an abomination to God.”
These rulers of the law saw their wealth as approval from God because they were so scrupulous about their observance of the law. Jesus’ teaching that their wealth tends to feed unrighteous living attacked their greed and covetousness.
So, it is in this setting that Jesus tells the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Two scenes or acts of the story are presented here.
1. The earthly life (verses 19-22)
2. The future life in Hades and in Heaven (verses 23-31)
There was a rich man --- lived the good life --- best clothes --- best food --- living in the partying lifestyle --- not a worry or a care --- he had it all --- eat, drink, and be merry… he lived this lifestyle openly so that all could see how important and how wealthy he was… how much better he knew he was that anyone else around.
And, then, outside the gates of the rich man’s palatial mansion, existed another man whom Jesus describes in the Luke 16 passage.
This man was a beggar, not a rich man, but unlike the rich man, the beggar at least had a name, Lazarus. In contrast, the beggar, Lazarus, was covered with sores, his skin ulcerated and hard to look at. He was hungry…willing to eat the scraps which fell from the table of the rich man.
Here is how those scraps got on the floor under the rich man’s table.
Those who were dining with the rich man would use pieces of bread to dry off the grease on their fingers …from the finger foods they were eating??. These pieces then could not be eaten by the guests or be dipped into the meat or gravy dish.
So, it was customary to throw them under the table.
When the meal was over…and the diners were probably drunk with overeating and drinking… the servants would sweep up the scraps or gather them and distribute them to the dogs and to the beggars. And, I imagine the rich folks felt pretty good about themselves as they contributed to the well-being of the dogs and beggars.
And, speaking of the dogs, they were the only ones who gave any real care to the beggars, licking their wounds.
The rich man was well aware of the presence of the beggar, Lazarus. He went in and out of his home, passing by him frequently.
He had every opportunity to reach out to this poor man and make an attempt to relieve his condition. But no, he was continually and criminally indifferent and neglectful. His heart was hardened toward the man…the rich man was disgusted, repulsed by the beggar’s appearance and condition.
What happens next in the parable as Jesus tells it brings on a permanent situation. The rich man’s opportunity to make a difference in Lazarus’ life comes to an end forever.
Verse 22 tells us that the beggar dies and the angels carried him away to Abraham’s side. The rich man also dies and is buried.
Note: Lazarus dies and is carried to be with Abraham; the rich man dies and he is buried…quite a contrast.
Lazarus was being ministered to in Heaven because he had been a patient, suffering servant of God on earth.
The scene in Hades is much different.
The rich man is experiencing torture, torments…amazingly he is able to view the scene in Heaven…sees Lazarus safe in the arms of Abraham.
Let’s stop here and ask a question. “Why do you suppose that Jesus speaks here of Abraham…that it is to Abraham’s side that the beggar is transported? Why did he not say that the beggar was at the side of God, the Father?
He was speaking now to the Pharisees who knew Abraham as Father Abraham. The father of the Jewish people. They would more readily understand the blessing the beggar was enjoying being in the presence of father Abraham.
Let’s get back now to the conversation between Abraham and the rich man in Hades.
He begins to make excuses for himself, begs for mercy…but look at what he asks for … and who he expects to deliver what he wants. He sincerely believes, even in the dire condition he finds himself that he can command the poor beggar man, Lazarus, to come and be a servant to take care of his desires… “Send Lazarus to me to dip the tip of his finger into the water and cool my tongue... because I am in agony in this fire.” How arrogant and uncaring can he be?
Abraham responds to the rich man’s plea for mercy and relief by letting him know that the time of preparation had passed…death had come to both men…there is now no remedy for the rich man. He had wasted his opportunity to use his wealth for the benefit of God and of his fellowman…he had ignored the suffering which was at his front door…he did nothing to relieve the pain and suffering he was fully aware of.
He reveled in the luxurious living neglecting those around him. He had the good things of life, while Lazarus suffered all that was bad on this earth.
Now the situations are reversed…Lazarus is being comforted and the rich man is experiencing torture…good has triumphed over evil…they are in conditions which will be eternally unreversable.
The rich man immediately recognized the separation between Paradise and Hell and thought of his family…too little, too late.
Now, he begs for Abraham to send Lazarus to the home of his father where his 5 brothers are apparently living a similar lifestyle as he had while on earth…he wanted them to receive the warning he had ignored so that they would not experience the torments which were now consuming him…a message of warning from a messenger from the dead would make the difference, he argued…the message would lead them to repentance of their unholy living.
Abraham’s answer --- if they would not listen to Moses and the prophets, not even if one rose from the dead would they be persuaded to repent...
What has to happen to avoid the torment in Hades is a repentance that leads to a godly, holy life…lives lived in service to humanity and reverent regard toward God.
Note: the rich man was not condemned to Hades because he was rich, but because of his neglect in not using his material wealth for the benefit of his fellowman, toward the right ends…rather, he used it for his own selfish pleasure.
His sin, then, was neglect and greed. Jesus never condemned wealth, only the use of wealth for self rather than using that wealth to become Christ-like in the use of the blessing God has provided to those who are considered rich among us today.
Gary K. Fair