The biblical passage: Lk 16, 19-31
There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And 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 hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.
We are not in general keen on extremities. Even though extremities constitute an inherent part of life, we prefer to follow the rule of the golden mean, a well-tested rule, trustworthy and certain. A rule that works in almost all fields of life.
Yet it appears that today’s biblical passage presents us with a contrasting situation. It speaks of two extremities. Jesus juxtaposes two figures: on the one hand the poor Lazarus, on the other a rich, though nameless, man. At first glance it may appear that we deal here with a simple story exemplifying the truth that it is not good to be rich, for though during life we may be well satisfied, after death our situation gets complicated: there is nothing good in store for such a man. We may also come to believe that the text recommends total poverty and ascetic way of life. Jumping to conclusions, we might infer that one must avoid riches of any kind, for allegedly they lead man away from God. In this way we are trapped, for who would like to deprive oneself of the so-called riches, to gain which one has struggled in pain all one’s life (or that has been achieved by the effort of more than one generation), riches which in the past some tried to take away from people in the name of equality. It is not true that God cannot like a rich man.
Let us consider now the following words depicting the situation of Lazarus and of the rich man after death “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out […].” We can see that Lazarus immediately enjoys all the blessings discussed by Jesus in His sermon on the mount. There is a good reason for the meaning inherent in the name Lazarus: “God is the rescue.” The rich man meanwhile remains isolated. But he is quick to learn: he notices Lazarus. Previously, in his life, when he had Lazarus at the gate of his house, he was unable to notice him or do him any favour. After his death the rich man wastes no time. Three times he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue for he is in anguish in the flame, to send Lazarus to his house so that he can bear witness to all this, lest the brothers of the rich man should also end up in this place of torment. If someone goes to them from the dead, they will come to their senses, thought the rich man. This is the answer of Abraham: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”
It is important to note that Luke the Evangelist does not have much to say to us about either richness or poverty. He is not concerned with the question whether one should get rich or not; he does not intend to evaluate either richness or poverty. One might go on to say that the text under discussion does not enquire into the existence of purgatory, the nature of hell or heaven, into whatever happens on the other side of life. Luke refers to the parable of Jesus, because it says much about our earthly life.
Luke the Evangelist emphasizes the significance of the present time! He says that it is truly important what we are doing now. He also wants to tell us how we can live now! He begins by depicting the chasm that divides Lazarus and the rich man. One must not reduce the presentation merely to poverty and riches. In one story Luke presents two worlds, which in our reception collide with each other, yet, when alive, Lazarus and the rich man fail to meet. And this is the heart of the matter! In his life the rich man knew the teaching of Moses and of the prophets, but he did not follow it at all! The tragedy of the rich man was not that he disregarded Lazarus, but that he did not see him at all. That is to say, he looked at him, without noticing him. Jesus does not accuse him of being rich, He accuses him of failing to see anything apart form his own riches. To put it clearly, the richness of the rich man becomes fatal only in his relationship with Lazarus, the man in need.
Thus the Gospel today presents a house inhabited by a man concerned with himself, in love with himself only, oblivious to other people, especially those in need. He fails to notice Lazaruses. Yet in our text the figure of Lazarus symbolizes a poor man, more precisely, it symbolizes a man “poor in spirit.” A man poor in spirit does not keep anything to himself, is open to God’s grace, has trust in God. About this immaterial poverty Jesus speaks, inter alia, in His sermon on the mount, reported by Matthew the Evangelist.
When we speak about poverty we associate it most often with material poverty. The same applies to richness. This, however, is an exceedingly narrow perception. The perspective of the congregation and
church helps us notice other kinds of riches. I do not have in mind material possessions, but richness of time, abilities, ideas, cordiality, good will and the like. All this can and should be shared. How? In accordance with what rule? On whose behalf? The words of Jesus are straightforward: „You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22, 37-40). Hence, without the Old Testament we could not comprehend the mission of Jesus, we could not understand His actions and attitude. Without Jesus Christ, on the other hand, we would be deprived of access to God the Father. Finally, without the Word of God, which we can find in the Holy Scripture, we would be condemned to our own guesses and religious intuition. Yet faith is something different. Its development and power comes from listening to the Word about Jesus Christ. Only this Word of God sets our faith in motion, our faith, for which we can be truly thankful to God. Amen.
Rev. Dr Dariusz Chwastek, translated by Dr Joanna Teske