Lessons from the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19–31

Jesus said, “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.'”

Growing up in a very southern family, I often heard colloquial sayings to explain how life is.  My husband affectionately calls them High Point-isms, meaning that no one that lives outside of High Point has ever heard of it or can understand it. One such saying that was popular in my house was uttered after you may have complained that you wanted something.  If you kept it up, someone would undoubtedly say “well, even people in hell want ice water.” Until I truly got serious about reading my bible, I had no idea where this came from.  This saying was in a roundabout way developed from the text we read today.  

Jesus, the master teacher, often used two extreme, and yet, familiar circumstances to drive home a point.  In this parable, Jesus uses the example of an obviously wealthy man and an obviously rich man. These two guys could’ve been people you would’ve seen everyday.  

The rich man lived for today, with rich, fine foods.  He had the best clothes that money could buy.  His wealth was on display for everyone. When Jesus describes this type of man, he makes no bones about the fact that not only was he rich, but everyone could see it.  Then we are presented with an antonym, Lazarus.  Lazarus’ poverty was on full display.  He was so poor that he depended on whatever was left over from this rich man’s feasting. There was no mistake that the rich man was in much better physical condition.  Lazarus was broke with open sores that were being licked by the dogs. 

 Have you ever had open sores? I once had them on my legs. I was at a friend’s house and their dog starting licking them. Gross, I know. But it is also an extremely painful experience. And if a dog starts licking you, it’s very difficult to get them to stop.  There is nothing that we hear about Lazarus’ life that sounds like he lives in richness or comfort.  However, we see that these two characters, though they both die, have very different endings.  This poor man, who has nothing of his own in this life, is carried off into eternity in heaven.  The rich man, who owns everything this world could afford, heads to the depths of hell. 

And so a discourse begins as the rich man is desperate to be given water in his eternal agony.  Abraham explains that he received his reward on earth and Lazarus now has his in heaven.  There is a great divide that can’t be crossed.  But the rich man thinks if his family is warned about the impending torment they face, they may avoid it.  Get Lazarus to tell them!  

However, they had been warned. They were all warned.  All throughout God’s plan did the people hear of God’s love, His people’s sin, and their need for redemption.  Even if Jesus himself, the One who rises from the dead, tells these people of God’s plan, they won’t believe.  

The truth is, the message has and continues to be declared. Christ has come. Jesus is the only way to cross the great chasm: making a way from death to life. Salvation is the free gift of God. If our hearts are inclined towards this world, we will never heed the warning. We will never gladly receive this gift. We will reject and go away in sorrow. The real sorrow will come when we are in eternity, only desiring a bit of water. The question is simple: is your reward here or eternity? Are you “living your best life now” or later?  Does your soul long for eternity or what the world offers as a counterfeit?  Jesus has come to warn us all. Are you listening?