The ultimate role reversal. The rich man became a beggar, and the
beggar was transported into the coveted position.


"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine
linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain
beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,
desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's
table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was
that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's
bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in
torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar
off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

"Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me,
and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water
and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But
Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received
your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he
is comforted and you are tormented. Besides all this, between us
and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass
from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'

"Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send
him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may
testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'

"Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let
them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one
goes 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 persuaded though one rise from the dead.'"  

                                                 Luke 16:19-31 NKJV, condensed
 


                                 Turning the Tables

You may have heard the wealthy man called by the name of Dives, but
that's just one of many Latin words for rich. The name of the beggar was
Lazarus, which means, God is my helper! If you think that name is not
appropriate for this man's forlorn condition as he sat by Dives' gate,
then you are short-sighted and not seeing the complete picture. We
could call the rich man by the Latin word for short-sighted, too, because
he didn't get it either. Or maybe we should name him Terrenus which
means earthly or temporal.

Jesus described the extravagant man as two dimensional--what he
wore and what he ate! Here was a man who could be featured in the
lifestyles of the rich and famous. He dressed in the most expensive
clothing and feasted every day with his kind on the most exquisite food.
But instead of having the paparazzi outside his gate, he had an
unsightly beggar.

We must forgive Jesus for exaggerating the extremes of these two men.
Jesus did that frequently in his storytelling for effect. Just to make sure
the likes of you and me got the message.

Lazarus, in contrast, was so destitute he couldn't walk, he had nothing
to eat, no one to take care of him, and no cloth to cover his many sores.
Dumped beside the rich man's gate, he waited pathetically for the
servants to throw scraps of bread over the fence and close enough
for him to grab before the dogs ate it. Those dogs, who may not have
been much better off than Lazarus, licked his sores. Whether the saliva
of dogs is antiseptic or infectious, and their presence a blessing or an
insult, is a matter of individual interpretation.

Then both characters died. The wealthy man had a lavish funeral. The
poor man was picked up by angels and carried off to feast with father
Abraham. The old slave song, "Rocka' my soul in the bosom of
Abraham", was based on this image of Lazarus at long last receiving
the dignities and comforts he was entitled to. The rich man was dumped,
bankrupt, into the torments of Hades, the place of the dead.

Seeing father Abraham in the far distance, Dives cried to him for mercy
and asked that Lazarus bring him just a drip of cooling water. But
Abraham reminded him that in their previous lives Lazarus suffered at
his gate and he never gave him so much as a drop of kindness, so now
each of them was simply getting what they had coming. Besides, there
was a gaping chasm between the two so that neither could cross to the
other. So Dives asked another favor. Please send Lazarus to my
brothers and warn them so they don't end up in this horrible state, too.

Again the answer was negative. Slaves might have thought this parable
comforting. But if you were hearing it for the first time, you would probably
be shocked into silence. Jesus intended it to be so--to jar us out of our
lackadaisical attitude and stimulate a change in our behavior.

Are we listening? Dives was not in Hades because he had been rich
any more than Lazarus was safe in Abraham's bosom because he had
been poor. Dives was suffering because he had failed to pay attention
to the Law of Moses which requires hospitality and charity to all,
especially the poor. Nor did he heed the words of the Prophets to repent
and turn from the sins of his self-indulgent demeanor. When someone
stood up to read from the ancient texts in his house of worship, his mind
was on other things, like eating and strutting. He professed to believe
the words of God, but did not act accordingly.

"Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life," as Martin
Luther King Jr preached, "but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty
significance." Dives and Lazarus learned that first hand. The former had
given no thought to the treasure of heaven. Whereas thoughts of heaven
were likely the only treasure Lazarus had. Are we listening and paying
attention. No one, no matter how rich or poor we are, is exempt. We
can learn this unalterable lesson from Jesus, the greatest Prophet of all.
Or if we prefer we can learn it the way Dives did.

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker:  When you splurge, what do you like to eat, or wear?

 

What are the things which absorb most of your time and attention?
            Are you similar to the rich man in any way?
            Or have you ever felt like the poor beggar outside the gate?
How do you react to the rich man's reversal of fortune?
            Was it fair what happened to him and Lazarus, both in life and in death?

 

Dives, a son of Abraham, wore his religion on his fine purple sleeves while
at his doorstep Lazarus , another son of Abraham, had nothing to cover
his sores!
            What is wrong with that picture?
            How does your faith influence the way you treat people in need?
List other contrasts you see in this parable and tell how they reflect the
injustice of earth and/or the justice of heaven.

 

Heaven has been described as that place or condition where justice will
finally and ultimately be done.
            Do you agree with that definition?   Why or why not?
            Does this parable support that definition?

 

Helmut Thielicke commented, "The torment of the dead is that they cannot
warn the living, just as it is the torment of the mature that the erring young
will not listen to them."
            Relate an experience you had trying to tell someone something they
                        needed to know, but they would not listen to you.
            Is this also the great dilemma of God?

 

Jesus often used figurative language in his teaching.
            What is the symbolism of Abraham's bosom?
Discuss the common images of fingers and tongues, fire and water, and
the separating gulf, and determine how Jesus used these familiar words
to convey spiritual meaning.
            What was the point Jesus was making with these words?

 

You and I are in the position of the five brothers at the end of the story.
            What do you think happened to them?
            What is required of the living so they don't end up like Dives did?

 

Think about the person who most represents Lazarus in your life, and how you
interact with them. As a result of hearing this parable, is there anything in
your behavior toward that person which must change?

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