Lectio Divina: 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man
Between the two only a closed door
Luke 16: 19-31
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death.
Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create silence in us so that we may listen to Your voice in creation and in the scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
In this 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Liturgy places before us the parable of the poor Lazarus, sitting before the door of the rich man. This parable is a faithful mirror, in which is mirrored not only the situation of the society at the time of Jesus, but also our society of the XXI century. The parable is a strong and radical denunciation of this situation, because it clearly indicates that God’s way is contrary to that. In the parable there are three persons: the poor man, the rich man and Father Abraham. The poor man has a name, but does not speak. He hardly exists. His only friends are the little dogs which lick his wounds. The rich man does not have a name, but speaks always and insists. He wants to be right, but he does not succeed. Father Abraham is the father of both of them, and loves both, and he calls the rich man who is in hell, but he does not succeed in making the rich man change his opinion and experience conversion. During the reading try to be very attentive to the conversation of the rich man with Father Abraham, to the arguments of the rich man and to the arguments of Father Abraham.
b) A division of the text to help in the reading:
Luke 16:19-21: The situation of both in this life.
Luke 16:22: The situation of both in the other life.
Luke 16:23-26: The first conversation between the rich man and Abraham.
Luke 16:27-29: The second conversation between the rich man and Abraham.
Luke 16:30-31: The third conversation between the rich man and Abraham.
Jesus said to the Pharisees: "There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.' He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.' But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"
3. A moment of prayerful silence
that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Which point of the text pleased you most and what struck you most? Why?
b) Compare the situation of the poor man and of the rich man before and after death. What is their situation before death? What changes in the situation of the poor man and of the rich man after death?
c) What separates the poor man from the rich man before death? What separates the rich man from the poor man after death?
d) In the conversation between the rich man and Father Abraham, what does the rich man ask and what is Abraham’s response?
e) In this parable, the situation changes only after death. Would it be that Jesus wants to tell us that during life the poor have to bear everything in order to be able then to merit Heaven? What do you think?
f) There are some people who, like the rich man of the parable, expect miracles in order to be able to believe in God. But God asks us to believe in Moses and in the prophets. And I, toward which side does my heart tend: toward the miracle or toward the Word of God?
g) How do I treat the poor? For me, do they have a name?
5. For those who wish to deepen more into the theme
i) In the Gospel of Luke, from Chapter 9 (Lk 9:51), we are accompanying Jesus on His journey toward Jerusalem. Here in chapters 15 and 16, as to say, we reach the summit, the center of the journey, from where it is possible to see the road that has already been covered and that which still has to be covered. Or, that is, that on the summit of the hill, or in the center of the Gospel, we perceive with greater clarity the two principal themes which go through the Gospel of Luke, from beginning to end. In chapter 15, the parable of the father with his two sons reveals to us the tenderness and the mercy of God who accepts all. Now chapter 16 presents to us the parable of the poor Lazarus to reveal the attitude that we should have before the problem of poverty and of social injustice.
ii) Every time that Jesus has something important to communicate, He narrates or tells a parable; He creates a story which mirrors the reality of the people. Thus, during the reflection on visible reality, He leads those who listen to discover the invisible appeals of God, present in life. A parable is made to make people think and reflect. This is why it is important to be attentive even to small details. In the parable on which we are meditating, there are three persons: Lazarus, the poor man, the only one who does not speak; the rich man without a name, who speaks to ask for favors; Father Abraham, who, in the parable, represents the thought of God. The rich man without a name represents the dominating ideology of the government of the time. Lazarus represents the excruciating cry of the poor at the time of Jesus, of the time of Luke and of all times.
b) Commentary on the text:
Luke 16:19-21: The situation of the rich man and of the poor man.
Here we have the two extremes of society: on the one hand, the aggressive richness; on the other, the poor without any resources, without any rights, covered with ulcers and wounds, impure, with nobody to accept him, to receive him, except the little dogs which lick his wounds. What separates both of them is only a door: the closed door of the house of the rich man. On his part there is no acceptance, no pity for the problem of the poor man who is before his door. But in the parable, the poor man has a name, while the rich man does not. The name of the poor man is Lazarus, which means God helps.
Through the poor God helps, the rich and the rich man could have his name written in the Book of Life. The rich man does not accept to be helped by the poor man, because he continues to keep the door closed. This beginning of the parable, which describes the situation, is a faithful mirror of what happens in the time of Jesus and of Luke. It is also the mirror of what happens today!
Luke 16:22: The change revealed by the truth which was hidden.
“Now it happened that the poor man died and was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s embrace. The rich man also died and was buried”. In the parable, the poor man dies before the rich man. This is a warning for the rich. Up to the time when the poor man was before the door, alive, it is still possible for the rich man to be saved. But after the poor man dies, the rich man also dies. Today, millions of poor people die, victims of the geopolitics of the rich countries.
The poor man dies and is carried away by the angels into Abraham’s embrace. The embrace of Abraham is the source of life, from where is born the People of God. Lazarus, the poor man, belongs to the People of God, forms part of the People of Abraham , from which he is excluded because he was at the door of the rich man. The rich man, who thinks that he is a son of Abraham , also dies and is buried. But he does not go toward the embrace of Abraham, because he is not a son of Abraham!
The introduction of the parable ends here. Now begins the revelation of its meaning, through three conversations between the rich man and Father Abraham.
Luke 16:23-26: The first conversation between the rich man without a name and Father Abraham.
The parable is like a window which Jesus opens for us on the other side of life, the side of God. It is not a question of Heaven. It is a question of the true side of life discovered only by faith and that the rich man, without faith, does not perceive. The dominating ideology prevents him from discovering it. And it is only in the light of death that the ideology disintegrates in the mind of the rich man, and that the true value of life appears to him. On God’s part, without the ideology and the deceiving propaganda of the government, their luck will be changed: The rich man suffers, the poor man is happy. The rich man, in seeing Lazarus in Abraham’s embrace asks that Lazarus give some relief to his suffering. In the light of death, the rich man discovers that Lazarus is his only possible benefactor. But now it is too late! The rich man without a name is a Jew (or Christian), is “pious”, knows Abraham, and calls him Father. Abraham responds and calls him son. That means, in reality, this word of Abraham is addressed to the rich who are alive. In so far as being alive, they also have the possibility of becoming sons of Abraham, if they open the door to Lazarus, to the poor man, to the only one who in God’s name can help them. For the rich man, closed up in his suffering, salvation consisted of a drop of water which Lazarus could give him. In reality, for the rich man, salvation does not consist in Lazarus giving him a drop of water to refresh his tongue, but rather, that he himself, the rich man, open the closed door of his house and enters into contact with the poor man. It is only in this way that it will be possible to overcome the great abyss which separates him.
In Abraham’s response, the truth of the four curses appears before the rich man: (Lk 6: 24-26).
But alas for you who are rich:
you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have plenty to eat now:
you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who are laughing now:
you shall mourn and weep.
Alas for you when everyone speaks well of you!
This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.
Luke 16:27-29: The second conversation between the rich man and Abraham
The rich man insists, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers!” The rich man does not want his brothers to suffer the same torment. “Send Lazarus!” Lazarus, the poor man, is the only true intermediary between God and the rich. But the rich man, during his life was not concerned for the poor Lazarus. He is concerned about himself and his brothers. He was never concerned about the poor! It is like the older son of the “Parable of the Father with two sons” (Lk 15:25-30). The older one wanted to have a feast with his friends, and not with his brother who had been lost. Abraham’s response is clear: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them!” They have the bible! The rich man had the bible. He knew it even by heart. But he never became aware that the bible had something to do with the poor who were at his door. The key to understanding the meaning of the bible and of salvation is poor Lazarus, sitting at the door of the rich man!
c) Extending the information:
Because of the unjust social context at the time of Jesus:
In the year 64 B.C. the Romans invaded Palestine and imposed upon the people a very heavy tax. The scholars estimate that more or less half of the family income was destined to pay the taxes, the taxes of the Roman government. Besides, Rome made a geopolitical reorganization in the region. Before the Roman invasion, the whole region, from Tyre to Sidon up to the frontier with Egypt, was governed by the Asmonei, the prolongation of the Maccabees. After the invasion, only three regions remained under the government of the Jews: Judea, Pereira and Galilee. In order to be able to maintain the control on dominated peoples with a minimum of sacrifice and at their own expense, the Romans were the Sadducees, the elders, some publicans and some of the priests. Thus, all this change brought about by the Roman invasion caused almost all the Jews who were living in the other territories of that region to migrate toward Judea and Galilee. The consequence of this: the population was doubled in Judea and in Galilee and the family income diminished by half. The result: on the one hand, progressive impoverishment, unemployment, begging, extreme poverty; on the other, exaggerated enrichment of the local population, supported by the Romans. The faithful picture of this situation is expressed in the parable of poor Lazarus and of the rich man who had no pity.
Final Reflection around the parable
The rich man who has everything and who closes himself up in himself, loses God, loses the richness, loses life, loses himself, loses his name, loses everything. The poor man who has nothing, has God, gains life, has a name, gains everything. The poor man is Lazarus; he is “God helps”. God comes to us in the person of the poor man sitting at our door, to help us overcome the insurmountable abyss created by the rich who have no heart. Lazarus is also Jesus, the poor Messiah and servant, who was not accepted, but whose death radically changed all things. And in the light of the death of the poor man, everything changes.
The place of torment is the situation of the people without God. Even if the rich man thinks that he has a religion and faith, he does not know how to be with God because he does not open the door to the poor man, as Zacchaeus did (Lk 19:1-10).
6. Prayer of a Psalm
Psalm 15 (14): Yahweh, who can find a home in Your tent?
Yahweh, who can find a home in Your tent,
who can dwell on Your holy mountain?
Whoever lives blamelessly,
who acts uprightly,
who speaks the truth from the heart,
who keeps the tongue under control,
who does not wrong a comrade,
who casts no discredit on a neighbor,
who looks with scorn on the vile,
but honors those who fear Yahweh,
who stands by an oath at any cost,
who asks no interest on loans,
who takes no bribe to harm the innocent.
No one who so acts can ever be shaken.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.