Today’s passage is very well known. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (sometimes called Lazarus and Dives). There is some debate as to whether this is a parable or not. Jesus typically does not use proper names, such as ‘Lazarus’, in parables. On the other hand, the teaching sounds like many other parables of Jesus, such as the Dishonest Manager, the Talents, or the Wedding Feast.
The Lazarus and Dives text is often used as biblical support for conscious life after death. Both Lazarus, the rich man, and Abraham exist in what is called ‘Hades’ or the ‘netherworld’. It is some realm of disembodied human spirits. There is a place of comfort for Lazarus and torment for the rich man. Jesus intimates that each person is where they are because of their state of penitence (Vv. 30). There is ample room to expand here, but today my focus is on the imperative of Jesus' teaching; compassion shows the state of our heart toward God.
The rich man is not necessarily in a place of torment because of his wealth. He is there because he lacked compassion for the beggar at his gate. I picture the rich man walking past Lazarus daily, seeing him in need and doing nothing. The rich man enjoys plenty and Lazarus lays there with sores and an empty stomach. The callousness grows. Finally, the rich man does not even think to look at Lazarus anymore. Or maybe he decides to walk another way. He has turned away from Lazarus, and therefore away from God (cf Matthew 25:40-45).
When the rich man sees the error of his ways, he starts to understand compassion. He asks that something be done to help his brothers. He realizes that while he is stuck, perhaps something could be done for another. I think this has a hint of silver lining. The problem is that the rich man’s brothers already have plenty to go on, as Abraham tells him. If they won’t listen to the teaching of God through Moses and the prophets, it will do no good to have one visit them from the dead. This seems like as clear a picture as any that we must take God’s word seriously. We have a great deal of help from the pages of Sacred Scripture.