Luca Giordano (1634-1705)
Italian late-Baroque painter and printmaker in etching. Fluent and decorative, he worked successfully in Naples and Rome, Florence, and Venice, before spending a decade in Spain. This self portrait can be seen in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.22 The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire’.25 But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us’. 27 He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment’. 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them’. 30 ‘No, father Abraham’, he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent’. 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses
and the Prophets, they will not be convinced
even if someone rises from the dead’”.
In this Parable about the rich man and the poor man, we have the only occasion when our Lord drew aside the veil between this world and the next, allowing us to see what is beyond; to see the intimate relationship between here and the hereafter.
This Parable of our Lord grew out of the reaction of the Pharisees to his Parable of the Dishonest Steward. There our Lord emphasized and underscored the link between money and spirituality. He indicated that man must love God and use money, instead of using God and loving money, as the Pharisees were doing, and as many still do today. Because of this teaching they ridiculed him. “The Pharisees, who were
lovers of money heard all this and they scoffed at him”.
In answer to that scoffing, our Lord tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus, a beggar. He sets the scene in the opening verses, describing vividly the difference between the rich man (referred to as “Dives”, Latin for “rich”) dressed in purple and fine linen most extravagantly who also dined at a fine gourmet table every single day. This is a man concerned only with eating well, sleeping comfortably and dressing to impress. His was a hollow life created from his love of display and the desire for self- indulgence.
In stark contrast, we have Lazarus, whose name means “God is my helper” a pious man, but one who had nothing, compelled to lie begging every day at the gate of Dives, sick, hungry and covered in ulcerated sores, waiting for any scrap of food which might be passed from the rich man’s table. He waited for even just the bread which had been used to clean the plates and was then discarded. His only comfort came from the dogs who sensed his distress and licked his sores to help them heal. He was totally ignored by Dives when he left his property every day through the gate, because he never saw Lazarus lying there.
The next section of the Parable tells of the death of Lazarus, now in glory, figuratively resting in the bosom of Abraham, and of the rich man, now in the depths of torment in Hell, seeing Abraham and Lazarus as if far away. He calls out to Abraham to send Lazarus to him with just a drop of water on the end of his finger to relieve his anguish. But Abraham reminds him of all the good things he had received in life, while Lazarus had received evil things. Besides Abraham describes the great fixed gulf between them, whom none can cross.
The use of the word “received” is an interesting reminder, in the midst of this dramatic story, that what we have in life is received from God. None of our talents or possessions are actually “ours”. The riches of Dives were not his own, just as Lazarus had done nothing to cause his illness.
It is a much more complex point to address the concept of Hell as described in the Parable. Is it too figurative language? But even if so, these symbols must mean something. Do they convey a deeper reality of the sense of utter despair and despondency? ‘The mental and spiritual torment of lost opportunity, regret and loneliness’. These are certain aspects that are associated with the concept of Hell. We hear people makes jokes about going to hell because all their friends are there. But they would not even be aware of them. As Dives has learned, he sees no one but himself, rather as he did in life.
But we must understand that the rich man was not in Hell simply because he was rich, any more than that Lazarus was in heaven simply because he had been ill and poor.
What was the sin of the rich man which resulted in such torment? He had not ordered Lazarus’ removal or abused him or treated him cruelly. He had not even objected to Lazarus receiving what scraps of food that occasionally came his way. His sin
was that he had never even noticed Lazarus. To him Lazarus was just part of the setting of everyday life. He considered it just the way things were, that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger while he, Dives, wallowed in wealth and luxury. He could look on the world’s suffering and need but feel no pain in his heart. He did nothing about it, his was the punishment of the man who never noticed. It is a stark warning that the sin of Dives was not that he did wrong, but that he did nothing.
At the conclusion of the Parable, it may seem harsh that his request to be allowed to go back, to warn his brothers about this place of torture, was not granted. But it is true that, if men understand the truth of God’s Word and it moves them to no feeling and no action, then nothing will change them. Not even someone rising from the dead. How many believed when another Lazarus was actually raised from the dead? Even w
hen Jesus himself returned from the dead, many did not believe.
Our chance of salvation lies only in our lives on earth - what this life is heading towards, what its final expression will be – and our chance is now.
“Come to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth;
for I am God and there is no other”.
Isaiah 45: 22
“Jesus, Love of all loving,
You were always in me
and I was forgetting You.
You were in my heart
and I was looking for You elsewhere.
When I kept myself far from You,
You were waiting for me.
And now I dare to tell You:
Risen Christ, You are my life. Amen”
Ø Does this Parable make uncomfortable reading?
Ø Can we relate to the five brothers of Dives, whom he knows need a warning from him?
Ø Might it be a trigger for us to look again and renew our relationship with God?
Ø Can we learn from our regrets or from the difficult times in our lives?
Ø Do the regrets come from inaction or from actively going against God’s Will?
Ø Can we see a way to turn these into blessings or maybe we have already done that?
Ø Can we help others to turn their difficult times into blessings?
Does someone need forgiveness to allow them to do that?
Ø Can we find some time to just be with God; perhaps to consider the good He has made out of the difficulties we have had, blessings which became turning points?