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The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is both beautiful and haunting. Whether this is a parable or a recounting of an actual event is a moot point – for we gain the same insight from either. It is likely that most of us see too much of ourselves in the character of the Rich Man, often called Dives (Latin for rich man).
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.
No matter one finds himself, this is a familiar scene. It is cross-cultural and cross-generational. Jesus recognized this when he said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). Drive across your city or small town and you will see both the rich and the poor. In this story Dives appears to be extremely rich, Lazarus extremely poor. Lazarus isn’t only financially empty, his health is poor and he falls beneath the value of dogs on the social scale. We are introduced to him as his sad life on this earth is coming to an end. But he is not the only one.
The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.
Death is an equalizer, never choosing to favor the rich or the poor. The healthy and the gluttonous, the well and the infirm, the young and the old are all set for an appointment with this dreaded spectre. “…People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” says the Hebrew writer (Hebrews 9:27).
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.
In the place of the dead there are images both disturbing and comforting. Dives is being tortured in the hellish fires of an afterlife without the comfort of God. He can see Lazarus receiving the comfort he never knew in his earthly life. Though Dives pleads for mercy, there is none. What a dark irony to see the Rich Man begging the beggar.
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.’
There is a great chasm between them. It is impossible to traverse. The appeal from Dives is heart felt, as persuasive as he can manage. Yet the fact remains that a chasm exists and nothing he can say will change that reality. The only thing left is to keep others from entering this terrible place.
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.'”
If Jesus is to tell this tale with the measure of truth, there is no escape for Dives. One might argue that this is unfair treatment and that God is unjust in his judgment of Dives, yet even Dives did not say this. He knows. His appeal is to send one back from the dead. Another Lazarus did come back from the dead, and they sought to kill him (John 12:9-12).
Of the lessons one can draw from this parable of Jesus, the one that catches my attention is the chasm that is now fixed. Neither Dives nor Lazarus could change their location, visit the other, nor offer any consolation or relief to one another. But that hasn’t always been the case. This story can be re-written if we will only cross the chasm while we can.
Cross the chasm to share your wealth. Dear Dives, nearby there is a Lazarus you have not noticed. I’m sure of this truth. How many times have we pretended not to see the hungry ones who would be satisfied with a few crumbs from our well-laden tables? What do you have / own that you could share with others to lighten their load? How would you go about that? Could you start with prayer and ask God to open your eyes?
Cross the chasm to relieve the suffering. More than hunger there is real suffering around you, Dives. What can you do to relieve that suffering? Maybe it begins with a kind word to the downhearted. Perhaps it extends to helping someone get to a doctor who is suffering physically. Your Lazarus is a real person who needs a real person to love them.
Cross the chasm to tell the gospel. There is a time when it becomes too late to share the great news. Don’t wait until then, Dives. Get the word out any way you can. Obey it yourself. Jesus does not want to see you in the fiery torments. Share it with your brothers and friends and strangers.
You see, Dives, this chasm is one you can cross … for now. But if you choose to remain at your table and ignore the Lazarus nearby, you will find yourself on the other side of a chasm you cannot cross. So cross it now. Reach out now. Love now. Serve now.
Dives is in torments because he lived for self; and he lived for self, not because he did not know that it was wrong, but because he did not choose to do what he knew to be right. ~Alexander MacLaren
Thanks for reading,