Imagine the most luxurious house you’ve ever seen. Was it in a movie? Was it watching Cribs or The Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous? It’s the kind of house that screams excess, that has more rooms than you could visit on a weekend tour, that has everything from the latest technologies to the most exquisite creature comforts.
That’s the kind of house that the rich man in our parable owned. He wore the most up-to-date fashions, even though he had no one to impress. He ate the finest foods, had the most capable servants, and threw away enough of everything left over to care for a small city.
Someone must’ve known that the rich man had more than he needed because one day, a beggar is placed on the rich man’s front stoop. So, here’s the poor man, Lazarus, which can be kind of confusing because he’s a ‘fictional’ character in one of Jesus’ parables, not the guy Jesus will raise from the dead. He’s covered with sores and starving.
But he’s also in a position where he relies on the help of others: he is laid on the unnamed rich man’s step. He doesn’t walk there and collapse, but rather, some well-meaning people carry him to the rich man’s house and leave him there.
The expectation is that the rich man has so much that the rich man would have to care for the beggar Lazarus. But there’s no conclusion to this story that makes us think that Lazarus actually received the crumbs, the scraps, or leftovers. This implies the malice of the rich man, that he would not even grant Lazarus that.
And the dogs came and licked Lazarus’ sores. You can interpret that one of two ways. Either even the dogs felt sorry for Lazarus or the rich man’s heart was so black that he didn’t even provide Lazarus protection from the dogs roaming the streets. That is the final nail it seems in the depths of the rich man’s soul: he denies the obligation or rule of hospitality that the Middle Eastern peoples would’ve known was expected.
This rich man was a class A jerk!
But Lazarus is put out of his misery (spellcheck made that “ministry” at first- I guess that could’ve been funnier!) and it says that the angels carried him to the side of Abraham.
The angels carried him to heaven: Lazarus went from persona non grata to priority number one. He went from ignored, left out, hungry, and in need, to the place of prosperity and honor next to Israel’s founding father, Abraham. There’s no detail to the parable, but Lazarus is “taken care of,” and much better than if he had been a made man.
“And the rich man died and was buried.” That’s all of the epitaph he gets because from the perspective of the parable, he doesn’t deserve more. He got everything he wanted on this side, so he’d maxed out on life. But in Hades, he’s missing something and he knows it.
The parable says that the rich man sees Lazarus and Abraham and asks for just a fingertip worth of water to cool his tongue. A fingertip’s worth of pity.
Rejection. That’s what Lazarus received/felt on earth, and it’s what Abraham sends back to the rich man across the divide.
Abraham says, “You had it all in life, while Lazarus had nothing, but now the roles are reversed. And there is a space that can’t be crossed between us.”
Maybe, just maybe, the rich man gets that he had his chance and missed it. So he switches angles, and asks that Abraham would send Lazarus to the rich man’s family so that they would change their ways. He wants Lazarus to give them the whole Jacob Marley treatment, so that they won’t end up there in Hades with him. But he’s still not treating Lazarus like he’s his equal: he’s only directing the comments to Abraham to send Lazarus to deliver the message.
Abraham again rebuffs him: “your brothers have the writings of the Torah and the prophets to guide them.”
The rich man is growing desperate. “But a dead man would convince them and they will repent.”
Jesus via this fictional Abraham tells the rich man: “if they don’t repent because of the scriptures, they won’t be convinced by someone rising from the dead.”
Do you see the irony there? Do you get that Jesus-who-will-rise-from-the-dead says that wouldn’t be the only reason someone would believe… and yet it can be. What convinces each of us can vary from the intellectual to the heartfelt to the experiential. But Jesus here says it’s not enough just to see miracles: obedience is important, too.
I wonder what it would take for us to be really convinced. I mean, it’s understood, that we all believe to some extent, right? You’re reading this or sitting here, you must see some point to this, right?
But are we convinced enough to change? Did any of us really think of ourselves as the rich man in the parable? Or did we all assume that we were the righteous, suffering beggar?
I wonder, if we’re not guilty of living in excess and failing to see those who suffer around us. Is it someone in our family, our neighborhood, or work community? Do we need to recognize that God has given us the scripture, like the Ten Commandments, to guide our steps and help us to be who we’re supposed to be?
I think, if we’re willing to let God shine a light into our lives, that we need to recognize that we’re called to live differently than the world expects. That the best and the most aren’t always the most fulfilling; that caring for our neighbor means something in this life and the next.
Are you convinced by the life and love of Jesus? Have you let yourself be changed by God’s grace? I pray you have.
Someone has to carry the poor to the place where they can be cared for.
Someone has to recognize the suffering and work to heal them.
Someone has to admit that in doing so, we may have seen Jesus without knowing it.
For Jesus said,
“I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'”
“‘Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'”
May we entertain angels unaware, and recognize that our conviction is only present in how we live.