Year C: Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Luke 16: 19-31

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.” But Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” He said, “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. . The rich man is not in torment because he is rich, but because he has ignored the poverty right at his doorstep. Who are the poor at your doorstep?
  2. How does the relative comfort of your life cause you to become numb and inattentive to the presence and needs of the poor?
  3. This parable seems to say that chasms begin in life and continue after death. Do you believe that we gradually architect our own chasms? Explain
  4. How do you balance the legitimate needs of living with excess in your lifestyle?

For your own reflection: Where might the Holy Spirit be leading you with this parable?

Biblical Context

Luke 16: 19-31
Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

Last week our Gospel reading ended with Jesus telling the disciples “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13b). This week we hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Between these two pas- sages Luke’s Gospel gives us some information that is not included in the Lectionary but that affects our understanding of today’s parable.

Luke tells us that, as Jesus was teaching the disciples to be prudent stewards of property and not to allow love of riches to interfere with discipleship, the Pharisees were also listening: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him” (Luke 16:14). Jesus corrects the Pharisees by saying, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

Today’s parable is part of this conversation. When we put the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in this context we see that it not simply about the proper use of riches: it is also about whether or not the Pharisees accept the teaching authority of those whom God has sent them: Moses, the prophets, and Jesus himself. From the point of view of Luke and his reading audience, today’s parable is about whether or not people will believe even if someone rises from the dead.

True, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus initially addresses the question raised last week with the parable of the crafty steward: how to use wealth on earth. The rich man in the story is in a temporary situation—earth. While on earth he “dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day,” all the while completely ignoring the poor man, Lazarus, lying at his door. Both men die. Lazarus is “carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.” The rich man goes to the netherworld and lives in torment.

Notice that Abraham does not tell the rich man he is being punished for not taking care of the poor; we assume he is in torment for this reason because of Jesus’ previous teaching and because of what will follow. Abraham simply explains that the positions of the two have now been reversed. Lazarus is now comforted while the rich man is tormented. There is a great chasm between the two, and Lazarus cannot come to comfort the rich man.

At this point, the topic of the parable turns out to be something different than we expected. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his brothers “lest they too come to this plaice of torment.” Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” The rich man, having not listened to Moses and the prophets himself, does not think that this is enough. He says, ” Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

The Pharisees obviously are compared to the rich man. By telling them the story of the rich man and Lazarus Jesus is warning the Pharisees about two things: both their abuse of wealth and their rejection of him. The Pharisees have sneered at Jesus as he taught the proper use of wealth. In acting this way they are obviously acting like the rich man in that they are ignoring the needs of the poor. In addition, like the rich man, they are refusing to listen to the teachers whom God has sent them, to “Moses and the prophets,” and, although they do not realize this, to Jesus himself.

This latter part of the parable, the part that takes place after the rich man and Lazarus die, is designed especially for the Pharisees. Unlike the Sadducees, they believed in the resurrection of the body. Jesus’ suggestion that those who have died are still alive in bodily form on the other side would not have been preposterous to them. The Pharisees, of course, could not have known that Jesus would confirm the truth and authority of his teaching by rising from the dead. But for Luke and his audience, including us, the parable ends on a very ironic note. As Luke will tell us in the Acts of the Apostles, even when someone did rise from the dead, many still did not believe.

Responding in This Life

Sr. Verna Holyhead
Sisters of The Good Samaritan, Order of St Benedict

If the man had recognized Lazarus as a “sixth brother” during his life and not been indifferent to him, there would not be the fixed gulf between them. The parable is a reminder that those who are attentive to the Word of God in Jesus will be attentive to the poor and their needs.

We listen to this parable as brothers and sisters in the house of living stones, gathered together by the One who has from the dead and comes to us in his Word and sacrament. Do we ever try to put human faces on those who lie at gates of our institutions and nations, or allow ourselves to be challenged by those who are covered with contemporary sores: the unemployed, people with disabilities, asylum seekers, abused women and children? When the poor are just an abstract concept, they continue to be separated by great chasm from their more fortunate sisters and brothers. We must try to bridge the chasm in whatever way we can: personal generosity, individual and group advocacy, information that stirs the heart to outreach, ethical business investments, or responsible voting; we are called to respond to the word of God in this life. Like the rich man and his five brothers, no signs, no miracles, not even the Word of God, can break into and convert our hearts if we are determined to lock out the disadvantaged from our lives, because in them our poor brother Jesus still sits begging at our gates.