Parables of Jesus


Exemplary conduct

Name of the Parable:
- The rich and Lazarus
- The rich and the poor

Summary Join us

The rich and Lazarus

From the Gospel of Luke Chapter 16, Verses 19-31

There was a rich man who wore robes of purple and very fine linen, and he gave himself a large banquet every day. A beggar named Lazarus stood at his door, covered with sores, eager to feed himself with what fell from the rich man's table; but it was the dogs that came to lick his sores. One day the poor man died and was carried by the angels next to Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. Standing in hell with torments, he looked up and saw Abraham from afar, and Lazarus beside him. Then shouting he said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and bathe my tongue, because I suffer terribly in this flame. But Abraham replied: Son, remember that in life you received your possessions, and Lazarus his evils; now, while he is so consoled, you are instead in the midst of torments. Moreover, a great abyss has been set between us and you: those who want to come to you from here, cannot, nor anyone, from there, can reach us. And he replied: "Then, Father, please send Lazarus to my father's house, because I have five brothers." Put them on guard so that they do not come to this place of torment neither. But Abraham replied: They have Moses and the Prophets; listen to them. And he: No, Father Abraham, but if any of the dead go to them, they will repent. Abraham replied: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if one were to rise from the dead".

Luke’ Parable exegesis

At first reading, the interpretation of this parable could lead us astray, because here we talk about wealth and poverty to the extent that the poor are pleasing to God and the rich are unwelcome to God; and this is usually the interpretation and explanation that is attributed to its content. But it is part of a wider discourse, which alludes to the context of the Pharisees: it presents us with a rich man who wears very fine linen purple clothes and lavish banquets are given every day, and a poor man (Lazarus) who is at door of the rich, covered with sores: who do they represent? To find out, we must try to understand what Jesus sees in the Pharisees, that is, the danger of unwise behavior that does not miss an opportunity to denounce: "Be careful and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees! [...] Then they understood that he had not said to beware of the leaven of the bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees".
(Mt 16.6-12)

From this point of view, the rich are those who believe they are perfect towards the law; Luke himself, in addition to this example, also shows us the parable of the Pharisee who goes before the Lord to proclaim his wealth, claiming that he is not like the others "Two men went up to the temple to pray: one was a Pharisee and the another publican [...], the latter, unlike the other, returned to his home justified, because whoever exalts himself will be humiliated, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted".
(Lk 18.9-14)

This "wealth", therefore, represents by similitude the belief that one is perfect before the law and God, to receive the admiration of the others: the rich man of the parable in fact shows off a dress of very fine purple linen and gives lavish banquets, has set his life on admiration because he wanted to stand out from the others. This is the sin of which Jesus accuses the Pharisees: they observe and do everything according to the Law, but their real goal is the conquest of admiration. Lazarus, on the other hand, is the publican who lives by the day, only in the fear of God.

The meaning of the parable that sees them as protagonists is reflected in the testimony of the prophet Jeremiah: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who places his support in the flesh and whose heart moves away from the Lord". (Jer 17.5), that is, that he relies only on what belongs to earthly life. It is evident, in this case, that it is no longer the Lord who guides the conduct of man, but everything that belongs to the flesh, with the sole purpose of winning the admiration of other men (certainly not of God). But all this is not without consequences, which may take a while to become manifest, but sooner or later they become concrete; and they are not to be understood as a divine punishment, but rather as the inevitable course of such wrong choices; In fact, Jeremiah continues: "He will be like a tamerisk in the steppe, when good comes he does not see it; he will dwell in arid places in the desert, in a land of saltiness, where no one can live".
(Jer 17.6)

The parable, reported by the evangelist Luke, reaffirms precisely this concept: what does it tell us when the rich man turns to Abraham? "Have pity on me, send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in the water and bathe my tongue, because I suffer terribly in this flame". While Lazarus is a beggar who patiently waits, the man who lives in confidence in the Lord and puts all of himself in him. This man is "like a tree planted along streams of water, which bears fruit in due time: its leaves do not wither and all it does, it succeeds [...]. For the Lord watches over the path of the just, while the way of the wicked is in ruins ". (Ps 1: 3-6); "it is like a tree planted along a stream, towards the current it spreads its roots; it is not afraid when the heat comes, its leaves remain green, in the year of drought there is no pain, it does not stop producing fruit". (Jer 17: 8). With this parable Luke is telling us that Jesus is the fulfillment of every prophecy.

This being the case, because the rich man lived that way, and because he was heard to say, "if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, will they not even listen if one resurrects from the dead?" Here it is clear the denunciation of the hardness of heart of the Pharisees, who knew the Scriptures, knew the testimony left by the Prophets, were considered the greatest experts and accurate exhibitors of the Law, but behaved in a completely different way. Why this hardness? Jeremiah had already foretold it: "Nothing is more treacherous than the heart and hardly heals! [...] I, the Lord, examine the mind and test the hearts, to give to each according to his conduct, according to the fruit of his actions"
(Jer 17: 9-10)

The Pharisees had every opportunity to redeem themselves, but they did not want, because their heart was untrustworthy, far from God, even if in appearance they belong to God, hence their hypocrisy. In Luke's parable, while the beggar Lazarus has a pure heart and deserves to enjoy the vision of God, in fact it is described to be in the womb of Abraham, the rich man who has a treacherous and hypocritical heart, is in the torment. it is physical because by now the body is dead, but it is spiritual, therefore much more acute and timeless: it will never end, it is forever. And the gravity of this torment is even more emphasized by Abraham, when he says "between us and you is a great abyss has been set, those who want to pass by here you, neither can anyone, from there, can reach us".

When our earthly existence ends, we will enter into the perfect knowledge of God, we will understand the mysteries of God and, in the light of this knowledge, we will also fully understand the life we have led. In that precise moment we will realize that we will not be able to reach communion with Him, if in earthly life we have not been careful to put Him in the first place: only then will we take total awareness of it. However, no path can be taken any longer, which is possible only when we are in the earthly dimension "They have Moses and the Prophets, listen to them". What is upsetting is that when this is realized, there will be nothing left to do and it will be forever; the awareness of having erred in one's life conduct will be useless, because now it will all be over; with the closing of time, remorse cannot be transformed into repentance, and the pain of having lost the highest good will turn into that eternal torment similar to fire: a truly terrible punishment, if it is true that even the tip of a wet finger is true with water, it would be enough to have some relief!

Now the basic message is clear, and that is what Jesus will summarize when speaking to the Pharisees he will say: "Thus you have annulled the word of God in the name of your tradition. Hypocrites! Well Isaiah has prophesied of you, saying:" This people honors me with his lips but his heart is far from me" (Mt 15: 6-8), which in a nutshell means you did not recognize me. And the Pharisees will not recognize Jesus even after the resurrection, for this reason we know from Abraham's mouth" they will not be persuaded even if one rises from the dead".

The parable of the Gospel of Luke is very harsh, because it confronts responsibility for its own way of life: everything depends on the choice one makes, walking towards God or towards eternal condemnation. It will then be useless to accuse God of this condemnation: it is you who have destined yourself for it, choosing the way of perdition! And the situation of our day is terrible, because humanity is just proceeding in the same direction as that rich man, dressed in purple and very fine linen, described in the parable. Today's culture pushes us towards the achievement of earthly goals, to satisfy every personal and professional lust. The most classic of the devil's temptation is the sibylline insinuation of making us believe that we can become "like God", which does not mean to aspire to become eternal, but to satisfy all desires with greed, elbowing and placing ourselves above all, to feel "a god on earth". Here, then, because Jesus proclaims: "If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross every day and follow me. Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but who will lose his life for me, he will save it".
(Lk 9: 23-24)

And again: "What comes out of man is that which makes man impure. From within, in fact, that is from the heart of men, the intentions of evil come out: impurity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these bad things come out from within and make man unclean. " (Mk 7,20-23) If you will be led by selfishness, by careerism, by the desire for omnipotence, where will your actions lead you? For you to know God, you must have a pure heart, and this depends only on you. You decide where to go, what decision to take now, which will have repercussions in the time to come. Lazarus is the model to follow, namely that of a man fearful of God who entrusts himself to His divine justice and mercy. O Lord, examine my mind, test my heart, make me understand the goodness of my actions, so that the devil never has power over me, does not act on my will by instilling evil and deceitful desires, deviating from the truth, leading me inexorably to that place of eternal torment!