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Rich man & Lazarus

On the surface this seems to present simplistic ideas couched in language that will appeal to the masses.
The brutal bosses will meet their fate, whilst the poor will receive a just reward for being poor.
The horrors of the Babylonian exile gave rise to the concept of Heaven, Hades and the gulf between them
It was conceived that, since divine reward was not apparent in this life, it must come after death.
If you haven't suffered in this brief life you should suffer for eternity once it is over.

This presents the idea, much valued by many, that we have to suffer to be proper Christians.
The greater the suffering the more certain is the divine recompense, so bring on the lash, the penitential stool, the hair shirt.
Give us hard pews to sit on and drone out the traditional hymns make attendance at God's house a penance
let us suffer to atone for our luxuries of the week. Forget free forgiveness and focus on revenge.

Of course that wasn't really the point, but it makes a good starter - gets the mob on the preacher's side.
We might ask why Lazarus was there and how he survived, presumably from the Rich Man's bounty.
We might ask why Lazarus didn't abandon his begging and do some work.
Neither idleness nor poverty are really virtues,
nor is richness, as such, to be condemned.

The screams of those denied their benefits because they fail to apply for work can ring hollow,
just as the failure of the sick to seek health through a change of lifestyle
often points more to their psychological needs than to their physical.
Was Lazarus simply at the best place to earn a good handout?
Perhaps he was not so innocent, as godly, as we might think.


Perhaps the real message of the parable lies in the last sentence.
Miracles (such as raising the dead) do not convince, nor induce a change of life-style.
At the time of writing, the resurrection was being preached, spoken about, but it hadn't changed things.
The authorities did not have a change of heart nor take greater note of Christ's teaching.

Christ and all the prophets spoke out the message of God,for their time and in their place;
called for the rich to abandon their places of privilege and to care for their neighbours.
Yet the world rolled on as before, filled with violence and inequality.

There is no virtue in being poor, nor fault in being rich.
The problem lies in the attitude of one to the other.
Lazarus was there at the rich man's gate, but nothing was done about him.
That was a vital failure in the life of the rich man, poisoning his relationships with others.


But this is a parable hiding several complex agenda.
We need to look beyond the facia of scripture to see the hidden motives of the authors, as well as the surface meanings.
This is not a description of heaven or hell nor of the relationship betweeen them. Things in the parable have meanings, not reality.

Maybe the parable is directed at the people of Israel, depicting them as the Rich Men (clothed in fine linen etc)
and seeing the Gentiles as Lazarus, despised and rejected by the Pharisees, despite their spiritual longings.
The Jews saw themselves as uniquely, richly, knowledgeable and blessed as the special people of God;
Yet they were called to be " a light to the Gentiles." (Isaiah 49:6).
This has been Luke's theme since the start of Chapter 15.

Since then the state of Israel has been devasted and dispersed, but the Gentiles prosper.
Even now they remain a rogue state characterised by brutal legalism.
The Rich Man is suffering behind his razor-wire and check-points
whilst the spiritual beggars prosper.


Jesus used this parable to rebuke the Pharisees for their selective reading of Scripture,
for even a supernatural event would not change the hearts of those who persistently rejected its teachings.
As stewards of a special message of truth, they utterly failed to share it with the Gentiles, who were eager to hear it.
Like many other Lukan parables, the message remains one of inclusion rather than division, of love rather than separation.
It is a message that is as needed today as it was two thousand years ago.