IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. AMEN.
Today’s Gospel reading of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is found only in the Gospel of Luke. When Christ gathered the “publicans and sinners” around him, as the Apostle Luke describes the setting, the Pharisees and scribes who were also there were ill at ease with those whom Christ associated with. Speaking to this varied audience, Christ orates five parables; the first being the Parable of the Lost Sheep wherein the shepherd, loving all of his sheep, leaves the ninety-nine to recover the one sheep that had wandered away from the fold; the second is the Parable of the Lost Coin where that which has much value was lost but then is found after which the friends of the woman come and rejoice with her; the third is the Parable of the Prodigal Son in which Jesus speaks of the manner in which a father loves both of his sons. For the fourth parable, the Apostle Luke says that Christ turns to his disciples and tells them of The Unjust Steward who uses the wealth of another to make friends for himself who can in turn help him. This series of parables ends with the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, after which Jesus continued on with His disciples to Jerusalem.
A Digression – On the Genre of Parables
From the beginning of Christ’s ministry to His last days in Jerusalem, Christ taught in parables (i.e. the house on rock and sand and awaiting the master of the house). The Apostle Matthew says: “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (13.34-35).
Much has been written on why Jesus taught in parables and what the meaning of each parable is, however it has been impossible to apply the same principles of interpretation from one parable to the next. Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) notes that, “Sometimes a theological reading is called for, sometimes a literary analysis is helpful, or perhaps a comparative analysis of different versions of the same parable, especially if it appears in two or three Gospels (i.e. the sower and the seed, the mustard seed and the evil tenants).
Therefore, this begs the question, why would Jesus teach in parables? Why would he make His teaching difficult? Are not teachers supposed to make difficult subjects easy through teaching?
Not all of Christ’s teaching was through parables. Many times he was direct such as when he said to the Jews that they were of their father the Devil, for which they wanted to kill him. Nevertheless, they also understood some parables that were directed towards them, such as the workers in the vineyard who killed the owners son to take his vineyard. But overall, parables were difficult to understand and to interpret, therefore we find on occasion that the disciples will ask what the meaning is.
Addressing how to understand Christ’s parables, St. Nikolai (Velimirovich) writes:
Once a person has been inserted into this world, it is as though he is plunged into the sea of God’s wisdom, expressed in the parables. But whoever looks at this wisdom with the eyes only, sees nothing except for the clothing that covers it. He sees the outer clothing of nature, but the spirit and the heart of nature he does not see. He hears and listens to nature, but all he can understand is nonsense voices, but nothing of meaning. It is not possible to see the heart of nature with the eye, nor to understand its meaning with the ears. Spirit reveals spirit. Love senses love… The world is a rich treasure trove of instructive parables, and whoever accepts it in this fashion and uses it thus will never fall nor be ashamed.
Vladyka Metropolitan, noting the personal interpretive dimension of parables writes that every parable was simultaneously a riddle to be guessed at and a problem to be worked out, for the disciples and also for all those who read them, to this day. However, he says,
The key to understanding the parables is faith… For all those whose heart is hard, who cannot see with their eyes nor hear with their ears, the meaning of the parable remains hidden. As the miracles of Jesus did not convince the scribes and the Pharisees of the truth of his teaching, so also his teaching, expressed in parables, did not convince them that he is the Messiah sent from God. But all who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and heard his parables with faith came to an understanding of his messianic calling.
So, with faith, may we proceed.
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus can be divided into three sections. The first is the presence of the rich man and Lazarus as they lived on earth, the second is where they go after death, and the third is when the rich man asks Abraham to send someone to his own father’s house to warn his brothers of what is to come.
Due to our own time constraints, we will focus only on the first section, which reads:
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried (Luke 16:19-22).
The Rich Man
Why does the rich man go to a place of torment and Lazarus to a place of refreshment? It is not because of his wealth that the rich man suffers nor because of his extreme poverty that Lazarus should be found in the bosom of Abraham as though there is a particular virtue in being poor (unless, of course, it is a voluntary poverty for the sake of Christ). Abraham, Solomon, David, Job, and also in the New Testament we find that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were all rich (Matt. 27.57); all were of great wealth; and all pleased God. Wealth for them was not a hindrance.
However, this rich man, we are told, was not covered in thread-bare attire or even simple and appropriate daily attire but was vested in purple and fine linen. He did not eat to meet his daily nutritional requirements but fared sumptuously and that not only for festivities or even once a month or once a week, but every day. And all of this was in the view of Lazarus, who laid at the gate through which the rich man entered and exited several times a day, giving no consideration to him, nor are we told that he even attempted to acknowledge his presence even though Lazarus was not in some remote, far-off area, but always present when the rich man would come and go, and also present for all his guests to take note of and was never greeted but always ignored.
It is this last point, St. John Chrysostom says, which especially illustrates the hardness of the rich man’s heart citing that even the persistent widow was able to wear down the unjust judge, who had no fear or shame before God, but she was still able to wear him down by her continuous pleading, but day after day as the poverty and sickness of Lazarus was displayed before the rich man, he not even so much as acknowledged him but continued to fare sumptuously every day. Nothing would soften his heart; nothing motivated him to ease the suffering of the one who lies always in his reach, to try to comfort with a word, or a touch, or some gesture of compassion, let alone with offering some physical or bodily comfort or satiation with food.
St. Gregory the Great notes that, according to the Old Covenant, the rich man has done nothing wrong. In the Jewish Scriptures, in Exodus, Leviticus and 2 Samuel, it is theft that is punished, not miserliness, but here Jesus uses the rich man to illustrate that hard-hearted stinginess towards one’s fellow man is what condemns him, and in this case, even if the perpetrator is a child of Abraham. Christ earlier used a similar example teaching that when anyone should see someone who was thirsty, hungry or naked that they should help them. But here, the rich man shows no mercy.
It is not his wealth which condemns the rich man but the inhumanity of his lack of compassion. “When a human feels pain - he is alive,” said Fr. Melchisedek of Optina, “but when a human feels someone else’s pain – [then] he is [truly] human.”
It is somewhat easy to speak of God as being the One, or as the Unmoved Mover for whom nothing in creation can force or move or compel. However, when God becomes flesh, we see the God-Man before us, we see the manifestation of the God of the Old Testament, now weeping for Jerusalem, weeping for his friend Lazarus, compassionate towards the woman with the issue of blood and with the woman who was crippled and could not stand up straight.
Matthew 9.36 - But when [Jesus] saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd;
Matthew 14.14 – He was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick;
John 11 – At the death of Lazarus, Jesus wept and the Jews, who looked on said, “Behold how He loved him!”
However, day after day, living and having to excess, and wanting nothing, the rich man hardening his own heart and using the gifts that God had given him as a weapon to injure himself he does not aleviate Lazarus’ sufferings in any way, to the detriment of his own soul.
The poor man, on the other hand, says St. John Chrysostom, lay at his gate and did not become discouraged, blaspheme or complain. He did not say to himself what many people say, ‘What is this? He lives in wickedness, cruelty, and inhumanity, enjoys everything more than he needs, and does not even endure mental distress or any other of the unexpected troubles (which afflict mankind), but gains pure pleasure, but I cannot obtain a share of necessary sustenance. Everything flows to him as if from a fountain, although he spends all his goods on parasites, flaterers and drunkenness; but I lie here an example for onlookers, a source of shame and derision, wasting away with hunger. Is this the work of providence? Does any justice oversee the deeds of mankind?’ He did not say or even think any of these things. How do we know? From the fact that the angels led him away in triumph, and seated him in the bosom of Abraham. If he had been a blasphemer, he would not have come to enjoy such honor.
And this honour, is the result of the virtues to which he enjoined himself for in patience, he possessed his soul; for wave after wave broke upon Lazarus, in which the Devil attempted to drown him but for which God desired to save him.
As St. John further writes,
For this man did not endure just one or two or three tests of virtue, but very many – I mean that he was poor, he was ill, he had no one to help him. He remained in a house which could have relieved all his troubles but he was granted no word of comfort. He saw the man who neglected him enjoying such luxury, and not only enjoying luxury but living in wickedness without suffering any misfortune. He could not look at any other Lazarus or comfort himself with any philosophy of resurrection. Along with the evils I have mentioned, he obtained a bad reputation among the mass of people because of his misfortunes. Not for two or three days but for his whole life he saw himself in this situation and the rich man in the opposite.
It is Lazarus who is taken by angels to Abraham’s bosom, the rich man… is buried.
The sores of Lazarus were a shining and glittering raiment while the rich man’s attire was the adornment of darkness and filth;
The health of the rich man was truly a sickness unto death while Lazarus being almost dead while living was giving birth to his soul.
For the rich man, the light of reason became night in the soul and for Lazarus wisdom was found in the dusk of life.
Dear Fathers and Brothers, Mother and friends, may we see the Lazarus’ around us, so that we will not be hard-hearted. May we speak of him and try to recognize him in our brothers and sisters around us. May we be Lazarus when the waters of temptations rise and the taunting of the demons abound; may our prayer be, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Help me to be like Lazarus.”
THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY FATHERS, LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON US. AMEN.
 Alfeyev, Metropolitan Hilarion. Jesus Christ – His Life and Teaching: The Parables of Jesus (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2021), 4:52.
 Nikolai (Velimirovich), “Tvoreniya” in Alfeyev, Metropolitan Hilarion. Jesus Christ – His Life and Teaching: The Parables of Jesus, 4:36.
 Jesus Christ – His Life and Teaching, 4:37.
 Cf. St. John Chrysostom: On Wealth and Poverty. Trans. Catharine P. Roth. (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1981), Homily 1, p. 21-22.
 Cf. Forty Gospel Homilies: Gregory the Great. Trans. Dom David Hurst. (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990), Homily 40, p. 375.
 Ibid., 28.
 Ibid., 37.