19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He 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.’ 25But 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. 26Besides 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.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He 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.’”
Translation: But there was a certain rich person and he was being clothed in purple and fine linen, enjoying sumptuous living every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who had been thrown at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed from the things fallen from the table of the rich person. Moreover, the dogs came (and) were licking his sores.
And it happened (that) the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. And also, the rich person died and was buried. And in Hades, being in torments, he lifted up his head. He saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried out (and) said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus so that he might dip the tip of his finger (in) water and might cool my tongue for I am tormented in this blaze."
But Abraham said, "Child, remember that you received the good in your life, and Lazarus, likewise, the evil. But now here, he has been called near, but you are being tormented. And in all this, between us and you, a great chasm has been established so that that ones wanting to pass from here to you are not able, and none may cross from there to us."
But he said, "I ask you then, father, that you might send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he might witness to them. so that they might not come to this place of torment."
But Abraham said to him, "They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them." But he said, "No, father Abraham, but if someone went to them from the dead, they will repent." But he said to him, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persauded if someone might rise from the dead."
Background and situation: Jesus is still addressing the pharisees, who are identified in verse 14 as "lovers of money." The story is a warning to them, and to us, about the dangers of wealth--a theme that is consistent throughout the book of Luke. (One out of every seven passages in Luke is about money and wealth.)
With the reference to "Father Abraham" and "Moses and the prophets," the "Jewish-ness" of the story is underlined. A sub-theme of the parable is to post a rejoinder to those who say "we have Abraham as our father" (3: 8).
The interpreter should also keep 6:20-25--the four blessings and four woes--in mind, in particular these two: "Blessed are you who are hungry now for you will be filled" (6:21), and "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry" (6:24).
Text: In a few short phrases, Jesus sizes up the rich man. He was "dressed in purple and fine linen," Jesus says, "and he feasted sumptuously every day." The word is lampros. It means he lived in opulence and ate splendidly, and lavishly, every meal, every day.
Fine linen involved a special process, and the final product was quite expensive--likewise the purple dye for purple clothing. The rich man wears both. In just a few words, Jesus has painted a picture of a man with an astonishing level of wealth. Table scraps from this man's table could feed the 82nd Airborne.
Meanwhile, Lazarus is a pitiable figure. He is ptochoi--not simply poor, but a beggar. Nothing is said of his clothing. He is covered not by fine fabrics, but by "sores." This marks him as "unclean" and results in the additional insult of being set upon by stray dogs.
He is "thrown down" (ebebleto) at the rich man's gate--"unceremoniously dumped" would be another way to put it. The draws additional attention to what must be the baronial nature of the rich man's estate. He has a gate! (He should had heeded the prophet Amos who warns against those who "push away the needy in the gate" and calls instead for "justice in the gate" (Amos 5:12-15).)
Lazarus dies and goes to "the bosom of Abraham." The rich man also dies, and is buried. Nothing is said about the burial of Lazarus, probably because it is unlikely that a ptochoi would have a burial. He is, however, transported to Abraham by angels. (Luke was ahead of his time. Joel Green cites Davidson to say that the use of angels as a transporting device does not appear in any Jewish literature until the second century AD.) Symbolic of his new status, Lazarus parts company with dogs and joins the angels.
Note that the text does not say that the rich man is in hell and the poor one in heaven. The rich man goes to "Hades," while Lazarus goes to "the bosom of Abraham." "Hades" is actually a Greek term, and corresponds somewhat to the Hebrew concept of the "underworld," or sheol.
Nor is it said anywhere that the "bosom of Abraham" is the same thing as heaven. It may, in fact, refer to the "kingdom of God." (Luke 13:28 which speaks of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob "and all the prophets" as being "in the kingdom of God.") In God's kingdom, the destitute poor are received with warmth and compassion.
Lazarus with Abraham, and the rich man in Hades is an illustration of the "blessings" and "woes" that Jesus had already pronounced in chapter 6: "Blessed are you who are poor...woe to you who are rich." (Lazarus wants chortazo--to "eat one's fill--which is exactly what the poor are promised in 6: 21.)
This parable is unique in the sense that certain characters are named--Lazarus and Abraham. (Lazarus, by the way, is from the Hebrew word 'el 'azar--"God helps.") In a surprising twist, and contrary to convention, it is the poor man who has a specific identity. What an interesting turnabout. The rich man is not specifically identified, but the poor man is.
Lazarus, while named, is basically a passive figure. He is received by Abraham with welcome and care, and, indeed, is in Abraham's arms. While this is comforting to the poor, most of the "bite" of the parable comes in its warning to the rich.
The story's only dialog is between the rich man and Abraham. The rich man calls Abraham "father," but might not have if he'd been familiar with Luke 3 in which John the Baptist derides those who take pride in being a child of Abraham, but don't share with the poor (3:8-11).
Abraham responds by calling the rich man "child," but asserts he is powerless to do anything because a "great chasm" has been fixed between those with him (in the kingdom of God?) and those in Hades. Moreover, Abraham asserts a sharp distinction between "us" (Lazarus and himself) and "you" (pl.).
The rich man first makes two requests of Abraham--a plea for mercy, and a bit of water for his parched tongue. One notes the irony of the rich man asking for mercy (eleeson) when he did not give mercy (eleemosyne)--or alms to the poor--himself (12:33).
Abraham tells him, in an observation that recalls the blessings and woes of chapter 6, that he received good things in this life, and Lazarus evil, but now, the situation is reversed. What's more, nothing can be done about it.
Still finagling, the rich man issues a third request, i.e. that Abraham send Lazarus to his father's house as a warning. In the use of Lazarus' name, the rich man demonstrates that he was aware of Lazarus in this life, but, even though the tables are now turned, he has yet to see Lazarus as an equal. His request that Abraham "send Lazarus" indicates that he still sees Lazarus as a lesser person, someone fit to run errands. Clarence Jordan in the Cotton-Patch Gospels puts it this way:
"Oh Father Abraham, send me my water boy! Water boy! Quick! I'm just about to perish down here. I need a drink of water!"
Recognizing, finally, that his condition is irretrievable, the rich man's attention shifts to others, al beit members of his own family. Abraham's riposte is that all these matters are covered in Moses and prophets, and the rich man's family already has access to these. The reference to resurrection is clearly a reference to Jesus' own resurrection.
The story tries somewhat to avoid the question of what happens after you die. As mentioned above, heaven and hell have to be read into the story because neither is specifically mentioned, and Hades isn't the same thing as hell.
That said, the story quite often generates the question of life-after-death. Despite the "great chasm," the rich man can still communicate with Abraham. Also, the story indicates that judgment occurs at death whereupon a person is dispatched either to be with Abraham or to go to Hades. This is consistent with Jesus' remark to one of his companions on the cross that "today you will be with me in paradise" (23:43). (Again, it should be noted that "paradise" (paradeiso) is more like a "waiting room" for heaven than heaven itself.)
Another view reflected in the New Testament is that of a general resurrection from the dead at the end of time. When people die, they are, as Luther said, "asleep in Christ" until the dead are raised, at which time they are judged, and then transformed into the new creation. In this view, you are not dispatched to heaven or hell immediately. The determination of your eternal residence follows the general resurrection.
This parable of Lazarus and the rich man follows on the parable of the unjust steward which Jesus explains by saying, "Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone they may receive you into the eternal homes" (16:9).
In other words, when you get rid of that dirty money by giving it to the poor, you will make friends with the poor and they may put in a good word for you so that you too may get into the "eternal homes." If the rich man had done anything at all for Lazarus, maybe Lazarus would have urged Father Abraham to cut him some slack.