Updated: Apr 5, 2019
A reflection upon:
"There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was lying at his gate.
He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man's table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores.
One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.
And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side.
'Father Abraham!' He called out, 'Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame.
'Son,' Abraham said, 'Remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony."
After teaching upon the values of the Kingdom of heaven- namely how Jesus' disciples are to steward their money by laying up treasures in heaven, and hearing the Pharisee's response to His teaching- namely scoffing at Him because they failed to excercise their minds past this life and toward the Kingdom of God, Jesus gives this story to those who were gathered: His disciples, the Pharisees, and the Jews. This story of the rich man and Lazarus given by Jesus is significant when taking into consideration that it is not a parable which was Jesus' primary method which He resorted to when teaching things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. This, coupled with the fact that in the story Jesus uses descriptions- i.e. the name of the poor man, has led some to believe that this was an actual testimony of something which had occurred. Whether or not this is true [It is better not to lead to contention], it seems good to examine this story as a means to learn from.
This story which Jesus gives introduces two different people: a rich man, and Lazarus. Though the rich man has no name, it is safe to presume that this man would've represented the man whom the Pharisees strove to be. Not only was he wealthy, but he also enjoyed his materialistic things which he had received: dressing in fine clothes every day and eating regally every day- "feasting like a king." This phraseology of "feasting lavishly" in the Greek [euphrainomenos] denotes uttermost happiness and merriment, which gives insight on the manner of life which this rich man enjoyed- full of joy and happiness. Though no other description was given of the rich man, we can attempt to form an idea of what this lifestyle brought: A good standing in society, well respected by others, and the envy of others.
Now we turn our attention to the poor man, Lazarus. The Name Lazarus is derived from the Hebrew name of Eleazar which means "The Lord has help." Now keep this in mind as you take into consideration the description of his life. He was a poor man who stayed outside of the rich man's outer gate, and would sit their desiring to eat the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. And as if that wasn't enough, the description of Lazarus included the fact that he was covered in sores. The original Greek word for sores used here [ἑλκόω], is far more descriptive which implies lacerations, or severe and deep physical wounds. Although there's nothing more included in the description of these sores, a medical evaluation of Lazarus' description suggests that Lazarus suffered from a skin disease, and these lesions would have been ruptured through the force of [Lazarus] being cast down, resulting in these lesions becoming open and deep wounds. According to the Mosaic Law, this would make Lazarus ceremonially unclean [Leviticus 15] meaning that Israel, and all those who desire to adhere to the Law were to avoid him and isolate him, lest they come in contact/touch him and become ceremonially unclean themselves- the rich man was a righteous and pious man for preventing Lazarus from defiling his house! Imagine what Lazarus' life looked like: Day after day he lay outside of the rich man's gate- seemingly unnoticed by all those who passed by. As he lay in his physical affliction, he longed- strongly desired to be filled with the scraps which fell from the table of the rich man. Every single day he struggled to cope with the pain which his sores brought, more importantly imagine the struggle he had in thought as he contemplated his identity- "The Lord has helped."
Put yourself in his shoes- what thoughts would be going through your mind? Perhaps you would find it ironic, "How have you helped me God? You do not send me divine healing, You do not send me food.." As a reader you might say, "No, but God did help him. Look at the dogs! He sent Lazarus the dogs to bring comfort where no man did. Israel [the rich man included], did not care for Lazarus nor dared draw near him, but God never overlooks anyone and sent Lazarus some dogs to keep him company and comfort him in his pain and affliction." Except for that's wrong. Wound licking of animals is extremely dangerous, as the saliva not only prevents the wounds from being healed, but when done excessively often leads to infections. The fact that the description fails to say that Lazarus had to fend off these feral dogs from his wounds has lead some to suggest that Lazarus was a cripple of some sort, defenseless against these dogs.
These two men are on two opposite extremes: One enjoying life to the fullest, and the other living in agony and pain. And though they were polar opposites of one another, they shared one thing in common: Death came for both of them. Lazarus, most likely due to complications resulting from either his physical affliction or malnourishment, and the rich man perhaps died of natural causes, having lived a long full life. The story of these men do not end here, as their passing acts as nothing more than a transition into the "final act", in which we get to bear witness to their latter end. Looking back to our text, Jesus says of Lazarus:
"[T]he poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom.."(22a)
In order to better understand the terminology which our Lord uses, we must take into consideration whom He is talking to- the Jews. In Jewish religious ideology, Abraham is considered to be the "father of faith", and as such the Jews upheld the thought that when they died, those who lived by their righteous faith would be rewarded and blessed by joining Abraham and feasting with him in paradise as they awaited their vindication from God. The distance a person was seated to the host of a banquet or feast symbolized their value in the eyes of the host- the closer seated they were to the host, the more honored and distinguished they were considered. The fact that Lazarus was carried by the angels not only to Abraham, but to his bosom was intended to show how much the "father of faith" valued this poor man Lazarus- he was very dear in the sight of Abraham. In His story, Jesus continues:
"The rich man also died and was buried."(22b)
No matter how distinguished this man was in the eyes of his colleagues, in the eyes of society, in the eyes of those whom he came in contact with, he did not appear to have a momentous death. Rather, we read that after he was buried he awoke in Hades, or torment. Lazarus was in Abraham's bosom, however the rich man was still in Abraham's earshot, so he began to call out to him:
"Father Abraham!... Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tp of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!"(24)
This inquiry reveals some interesting facts of the rich man:
1. He associated himself with the seed of Abraham and of faith- "Father Abraham!"
2. He recognized Lazarus, meaning he was aware of Lazarus' suffering while on earth.
3. He sought mercy even though he never showed mercy toward Lazarus.
4. He was under the impression that his earthly stature equated to heavenly significance- desiring for Abraham to send Lazarus to serve him while in torment.
Abraham's responds to the rich man's request revealing more truths:
"Son, Abraham said.."(25a)
- Abraham does not refer to him as "enemy", but rather tenderly addresses him as a son.
"Remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony"(25b)
- Abraham instructs the rich man to remember.
- The rich man received his good things, meaning he lived for himself and followed after his own ways and desires which led him to where he was.
- Both the rich man and Lazarus had received their reward, only the rich man's had no eternal significance.
As we read this and compare the latter end of the two men, we will notice a striking difference between Lazarus and the rich man: Lazarus does not say a single word. In sincerity I am able to say that this hit me hard as I read through this passage, Lazarus doesn't even say a word. He doesn't ask Abraham, "Why did you let this happen to me?" He doesn't say, "You didn't come to me when I cried out to you." Nor does he say, "Where have you been? You were supposed to be my help! You didn't move and heal me of my affliction! You didn't provide food for me when I was starving! You didn't do this- or you didn't do that!" No. He doesn't mutter a single word, because he found himself in the bosom of Abraham. And the comfort which that brought silenced every thought of doubt, and needed no further explanation- "Its ok, none of that matters now. The Lord has been my help, as He has made a means of bringing me to the comfort of Abraham's bosom." There is a great beauty to behold through the narrative of Lazarus' life, as the Spirit of Christ through the prophet Isaiah testifies of, concerning the New Creation-His Kingdom rule:
"For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind. Then be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I will create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people. The sound of weeping and crying will no longer be heard in Jerusalem."(Isaiah 65:17-19)
Compared to what John testifies of bearing witness to concerning the same thing in Revelation:
"Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: 'Look, God's dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the One seated at the throne said, 'Look, I am making everything new.' He also said, 'Write, because these things are faithful and true.' Then He said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life. The one who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son." (Revelation 21:3-7)
These verses are perfectly exemplified through Lazarus. He was a man of faith, and his faith was tested in the most unimaginable way possible: living a life marked by pain, suffering, and neglect/going unnoticed by everyone. However none of this mattered the moment he awoke in Abraham's Bosom [paradise], he no longer recall to mind what he had endured while on earth because it was not worthy to be compared to the comfort he received in Paradise. Perhaps you to beloved reader, find yourself walking in the same manner which Lazarus walked. Your life may be one marked by pain and suffering, as you are clothed with deep wounds and scars- whether they be physical, emotional, or spiritual. And perhaps like Lazarus you are neglected and overlooked by society and religious folk alike- as they reason that your sorrow must be the effect of some secret sin which acts as God's divine judgement on you. Dogs are often used as a symbol for mockers in the Scripture [Psalm 22:16], and perhaps like Lazarus you are subjected to them "licking" your wounds- mocking you for the effect these scars have on you/ mocking the scars in and of themselves, while you stand by in silence as you are defenseless and helpless to do anything about it, resulting in these wounds to become infected as it hinders your spiritual walk. Should you find yourself in that position: do not be quick to return reviling for reviling, nor evil for evil. Rather in silence pray for them, as a theologian once said, "Do not be quick to condemn others. More times than not, men are more inherently ignorant than inherently evil." This is far more applicable to the scars which cannot be seen by the human eye, though one cannot see the scar nor know what caused it, they simply see the effect it has upon the manner in which you walk. After you have prayed for them, direct your heart to the new creation which will be revealed at the soon coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will send His angels to gather His own to be with Him forever.
This story also reveals a somber truth concerning Hades, or the place of eternal torment. Unlike Paradise and the Kingdom of God, those who inherit eternal torment are subjected to the same predicament which the rich man found himself: Bearing witness to God's elect enjoying the benefits of the kingdom in the midst of their torment, and having the capability of crying out in the midst of their distress yet receiving a response which is an antitype to what God's elect receive- "Son, remember." Not only will their bodies be subject to physical torture, but their minds will also be subjected to the torture of having to recall their lives over and over for all of eternity. "Remember your life, and the manner in which you lived. You heard the message of the Kingdom proclaimed, and you heard that salvation is found in none other than Jesus, yet you chose your good things… You thought it was sufficient to claim heritage to the seed of Abraham and of the household of faith, yet your heart was not set on the Kingdom and on serving the poor and powerless.."
I assure you I desire not to terrorize you in thought and mind, however through the story we can surmise that this man was a righteous [albeit self-righteous] and pious man of sorts. Abraham does not recite the rich man's list of sins before his face, he simply tells him to remember- or to reflect, upon his life and conclude what caused him to be led to where he found himself. Whatever fear of condemnation is quickly swept away however, when considering the surety of salvation reserved for those like Lazarus. Many Christians oft use Job as a reference in the midst of suffering, however I find it interesting that our Lord never cites him in any of His messages as they are recorded in the Gospel. Instead, we get Lazarus- who received the reward of his suffering not by obtaining double of what he may have lost, but rather by being carried into Abraham's bosom. Jesus strategically refrains from using Job as an example for suffering and instead uses Lazarus to convey a vital truth: the reward of Lazarus outweighs the reward of Job. Should we [as believers] find ourselves suffering, what good is it to receive the reward on earth- which is reserved for the fire, including everything found within it?
To remind those who find themselves reading this: This story was given immediately after the Pharisees responded to Jesus' teaching on the values of the Kingdom of God being laying up treasure in heaven through selfless sacrifice and the furtherance of His kingdom through materialistic things. The Pharisees were self righteous, yet considered to be the model of what it looked like to live by faith by the Jews, however Jesus rebukes them because they were not mindful of the significance of acquiring the Kingdom of God. In closing, I would like to remind you that Jesus' grace has not run out, nor is He apt to condemn. Rather, in love He is more than willing to change your outlook on life and conform your mind to be exercised towards the Kingdom of God- especially when your faith is being tested in the midst of suffering. Do not despise suffering, as I pity those who have not tasted the bittersweet providence of suffering and pain. And I would like to leave you with what the Spirit of Christ testifies through the prophet Micah concerning our Lord's rule in a restored Zion in hopes of guiding your thought to Christ and His Kingdom:
"On that day', says the Lord, 'I will assemble the lame,
I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted;
I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation;
so the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever."