THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
(Biblical reflection on the 26th Ordinary Sunday [Year C] – 29 September 2019)
Gospel Reading: Luke 16:19-31
First Reading: Amos 6:1,4-7; Psalms: Psalm 146:7-10; Second Reading: 1Timothy 6:11-16
“There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man name Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your life-time received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you many not be able, and none may cross from there to us. And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment. But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31 RSV)
The rich man in today’s Gospel must have been extremely wealthy because he dressed in purple and fine linen. Purple dye, which ancient civilizations made from a gland secretion of a certain mollusk, was so rare and expensive that only royalty and the very rich could afford it. Fine linen was also a luxury item.
The Gospel tells us the rich man feasted lavishly every day. People in Jesus’ day ate their meals with their finger because tableware didn’t exist. They usually wiped their hands clean with pieces of bread which they then tossed on the ground for the dogs to consume. These pieces of bread are scraps Lazarus, te beggar, would have been happy to eat.
The rich man died and went to the abode of the dead, a three layer place under the earth the Jews sometimes called Hades. She’ol, or Gehenna. All who died went to the top layer and waited there for eleven or twelve months until their judgment was complete. If God determined they had led evil and sinful lives, He sent them to one of the two bottom layers (the layer depended on the nature of their crimes) where flames surrounded them and worms ate them. Because the rich man asked for just a drop of water to quench the flames, we can conclude he ended up in one of the two bottom layers.
Those God judged as having lived righteously stayed in the top layer to await their reward. The rabbis argued whether this reward would come at the end of the world or immediately after death. The latter seems to be the case in today’s parable because it tells us Lazarus was with Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Some Jews believed God would honor the righteous by inviting them to a banquet with Abraham in the heavenly Kingdom.
The fact that God punished the rich man and rewarded the beggar surprised the people in Jesus’ audience because many of them believed wealth was a sign of God’s favour and suffering was punishment for sin. With this parable Jesus teaches that earthly wealth does not guarantee status in God’s Kingdom if the rich individual uses the wealth selfishly and ignores the needs of the poor.
How do we (you and I) use what we have? How much of our wealth do we share with those who are in need?
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 320-321.)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You provide us with a multitude of people who cross our path, whom we can reach in some way every day, with whom we can share the time and love You give us. You provide us with moments when You seem particularly near, and we can enjoy passing time with You. You provide us with crosses to bear, a yoke that is sweet. Thank you Father. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 28 September 2019
A Christian Pilgrim