Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 22, 2019

Abraham and Lazarus

A parable of Jesus:

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 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 listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’ [from Luke 16]

When the rich man (it’s significant that he is the one not given a name in this story, but the poor beggar is given the honor of being named: Lazarus) dies, he sees Abraham. It’s a distant vision because the rich man is separated from redemption by inaccessibility.

This man’s first thought in the parable is not, “How come Lazarus is over there with Abraham, and I’m here suffering?” It is, “Have Lazarus bring me some water. It’s dang hot over here.” The only way he can possibly envision Lazarus in a place of honor is that the beggar must be in the role of a servant. His servant.

Abraham, representing to Luke’s readers the entire religious tradition and the holy, attempts several times to get the rich guy to understand how wrong his assumptions are – the assumptions of nearly all privileged persons.

The rich man’s assumptions:

  • I deserved every good thing I got in life. Abraham’s implied response is that this is huge misperception. And, should it be true, then the rich man deserves to be stripped of all those good things in death. It’s finally time to spread the wealth.
  • I did nothing wrong in life; Lazarus can have the joy and privilege of serving me now in death. Abraham: “Um. No.”
  • If this is really the way things are, if I cannot be saved, then Lazarus needs to go warn the male members of my family. Abraham: “Again, no. Your male relatives can figure this out on their own, just as you should have. The entire teaching of the faith revolves around our treatment of the poor. Oh, and maybe it’s time you stop ordering Lazarus around. Because if you haven’t noticed, he is close to God and you are very far away.”

Luke’s gospel, even more than the other three, goes to great lengths to show that Jesus held the poor in great esteem, and the wealthy not so much.

The parable reinforces Jesus’s conclusion that the poor suffer as a result of both political and religious institutions that have failed them, and through the willful ignorance and disdain of those who have plenty.

Like the rich man in Jesus’s parable, we don’t need another sermon, another Bible verse, another person to tell us that our society’s treatment of the poor is spiritually detrimental to the society as a whole and to us as individuals.

We know all we need to know.

Now what will we do about it?

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2019


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