Lazarus and Rich Man
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’
Within each of us there may be elements of both men, Lazarus and the rich man. Like the rich man we probably consume too much. We may be too focused on appearances – what we wear, the car we drive, what size house we live in. We care too much about achievement and success. We are too concerned about having money. Many of us are privileged enough to buy things we want but don’t need. Many of us benefit from centuries of exploitation of other nations and peoples. We too seldom even see the poor, marginalized and oppressed who are around us. We may think we have earned all we have, while secretly thinking those who have little deserve little. We forget that God’s abundance is given to all.
But we may also have elements of the blind Lazarus within us. Some of us are poor. But even the non-poor among us may be like Lazarus, crying out. Lazarus cried out for money and for basic necessities, and to remind his neighbors of the poor and marginalized. We cry out for a world where no one will be poor, where all will have food, adequate housing, clean water, sanitation, good education and health care. We cry out for a world free from oppression. We cry out for a society where people respect and care for the natural environment, where other species are treasured, a world that values sustainability over exploitation.
We are in an in-between place: richer than many people on the planet and also trying to live responsibly and faithfully within this very unequal society. We seek to deepen our own commitment to simple living while recognizing our own participation in the excess consumption that marks our way of life. We work to understand and to alert others to the exploitation and oppression that is happening in God’s world. We pray for a more just world where all have the things they need for the life God intends for each of us.
We are the rich man with too much stuff. We are also blind Lazarus crying out for what we need, crying out for Jesus to lead us in a more faithful path. May we each hear the words spoken for us. May we each follow the voice of the still-speaking God.
Examine the Luke passage. Use your imagination to become each person in the story:
- In what ways are you like the rich man?
- In what ways are you like Lazarus?
- In recent decades, the differences between the rich and the poor have been growing, not shrinking. Do you know any reasons why this is happening? Can anything be done about this? Should we try to do anything about it?
- How do people in the U.S. live faithfully in a country, and in a world, with so much poverty? What responsibility do we have to do something about these conditions? What can we do?