The Gospel of St Luke, 16:19-31
Jesus said to the Pharisees: ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity 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.” “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”
‘The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them.” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”’
There was a rich man and there was a beggar named Lazarus. One wore fine purple robes; one wore rags and was covered in sores.This is one of only two or three Gospel stories that I remember hearing in primary school. I think the idea of hell and a man covered in sores both frightened and fascinated the 8-year-old me.
In this parable, Jesus tries to emphasise how those who cling to this world have their priorities wrong. The rich man had more than he needed, but he never helped Lazarus, who wanted nothing more than the crumbs that fell from his table. In the end, the rich man dies and is sent to Hades, where he suffers and wants nothing more than a drop of water to ease his suffering.On the other hand, Lazarus suffers in life. The fact that he wants nothing more than the crumbs from the rich man’s table tells us that he is not clinging to the life of this world. If he was, then he would want more than crumbs. In the end, Lazarus is welcomed into eternal happiness in the bosom of Abraham.
Something unusual about this parable is that Jesus gives us the name of one of the characters. If we think about the parable of the Prodigal Son, or of the Good Shepherd, for example, none of the characters are named. I think this shows the real affection that Jesus has for all the Lazaruses of this world.It is important to remember that the rich man was probably not an entirely wicked man. When he is talking with Abraham, and realises that his father in faith cannot help him, he asks him to send Lazarus to his brothers to tell them to change their ways so that they will not suffer like he is suffering. He has compassion for others.
How often do we see ourselves one way, while others see us in a different light? How often, in Lent for example, do we tell ourselves that we are good men because we pray more, and go to Mass, and fast from chocolate or alcohol or sugar? We might even give more money to charity. How often do we come across a Lazarus – someone who truly suffers and really needs our help? How often do we ignore these people?I think Jesus wants us to look down on the rich man, but only because He wants us to see him in ourselves. Just because we pray and go to Mass and fast doesn’t mean that we have everything sorted out. Far from it.
Lent is a time for us to give priority to God and our neighbour, as Jesus did on Good Friday. These weeks before Easter give us an opportunity to prepare for Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection. That means we should prepare to follow Him to Calvary, and He certainly did not go there dressed in purple robes. He went there in rags and covered in sores.