Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Imagine this scene. A man dies and arrives before the Judgment Seat of God. The divine Judge goes through the Book of Life and does not find the man’s name. So He announces to the man that his place is in hell. The man protests, “But what did I do? I did nothing!” “Precisely,” replies God, “that is why you are going to hell.” That man could as well be the rich man in today’s parable.
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus has left Bible readers wondering why the rich man had to go to hell. We are not told he acquired his wealth by foul means. We are not told he was responsible for the poverty and misery of Lazarus. In fact we are not even told that Lazarus begged from him and he refused to help. We are not told he committed any crime or evil deed. All we are told is that he was feeding and clothing well as any other successful human being has a right to do. Why then did he go to hell?
The problem we have pinpointing the reason why the rich man went to hell has a lot to do with what we think sin is. We often think that we sin only by thought, word and deed. We forget a fourth and very important way through which we sin, namely, by omission. In the “I Confess” we say these words: “I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” Yet how readily we forget the sin of omission. Today’s parable reminds us that the sin of omission can land someone in hell. This is what happens to the rich man.
The poor man Lazarus was lying at his gate. And the rich man simply couldn’t care less. “Whatever happens to him there outside the gate is none of my business,” he probably said to himself. “I mind my business. People should mind theirs.” Next, the rich man probably phoned the police to report that a stranger was loitering outside his gate. In the meantime dogs went and licked Lazarus’ wounds. And the poor man died. And the City came and picked his body and buried it in an unmarked grave. And the rich man went in and had another cup of coffee. Of course he did nothing against Lazarus. But he has failed to do a good deed. He failed to reach out and share a little of his blessings with someone in need. His sin is that of omission, and for that he was going to roast in hell.
Another problem we have with this parable is why Lazarus went to heaven. After all we are not told that he was a man of God or that he did a single good deed. Yes we are. In biblical stories of this nature, names are very significant because they often convey the person’s basic character or personality. In fact this is the only parable of Jesus where the character in the story has a name. So the name must be significant for interpreting the parable.
The name “Lazarus” is the Hellenised form of the Hebrew name “Eleazar” which means “God is my help.” Lazarus, therefore, is not just a poor man, but a poor man who believes and trusts in God. This must be why he found himself in Abraham’s bosom in Paradise — because of his faith and trust in God, not just because he was poor. Failing to grasp the significance of Lazarus’ name in the interpretation of the parable, some people have suggested that in the next life there will be an automatic reversal of status: the rich will become poor and the poor will become rich. But this is not the point of the parable. Rich people who use their wealth to serve God in their fellow human beings will still be blessed in the next life. Poor people who spend their lives in bitterness and envy, refusing to believe and trust in God as Lazarus did may yet again suffer in the next life.
The good news of this parable is this: If you feel like a Lazarus right now, battered by sickness, poverty and pain, forgotten by society and by those whom God has blessed in this life, continue believing and trusting in God knowing that it will be well with your soul in the end. If you see yourself as one of those blessed by God with the good things of life, open your door and see. Probably there is a Lazarus lying at your gates and you have not taken notice.
Peace and everything good!
Fr. Valery Burusu