“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.'”
This is the gospel reading in the Catholic and Episcopal churches for today, in the second week of Lent. I had decided to do a post on this reading before I heard it proclaimed in church today. The central event in the reading is the reversal of fortunes experienced by Lazarus and the Rich Man. Jesus exaggerates the differences in the social status between the two men. The rich man wears purple robes, denoting that he has some authority granted by the Empire. The poor man is of such low esteem that even the dogs have no respect for him. However, the situation is reversed in the afterlife, with Lazarus resting on the bosom of Abraham, and the rich man consigned to hell.
Listening to today’s homily, the pastor made a profound observation. He said, “the rich man was not sent to hell because of his wealth, he was sent to hell because his obsession with wealth blinded him to the needs of others.” The irony is that Jesus draws on real life experience when telling the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man who wears purple, and has five brothers, is Caiaphas, the Temple High Priest. His brothers-in-law are the sons of Annas the High Priest: Eleazar, Jonathan, Theophilus, Matthias, and Annas the Younger.
There are additional theological points Jesus makes with this parable.Jesus suggests that the separation between heaven and hell cannot be bridged in the afterlife. Modern Christians are divided on this interpretation. Many Catholics and Protestants accept this position. On the other hand, the Eastern Orthodox, and a minority of Catholics and Protestants argue that all men will be reconciled to Christ at the end of time. Von Balthasar and Rahner have argued that all men are reconciled to Christ at the Last Judgment. Karl Barth takes the mainstream position that universal salvation is not an accomplished fact, but it cannot be ruled out.
Finally, Jesus introduces some prophetic irony to the story. In the parable, Jesus makes the point that if the rich man (the Temple High Priest) will not listen to Moses, nor will he “be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead!” (Lk 16:31) Jesus anticipates that even the mighty act of resurrection will not be sufficient to persuade some of the coming of the Kingdom, through Jesus Christ.