The Rich Man and Lazarus: Lessons for Our Time

Jess theses statement in LukeAbraham 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.’” Reading for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Reading for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house; I have five brothers… Reading for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We often do not see, or understanding what the rich man in this story is doing with his requests. Lazarus is short for Eliezer, “my God is help”. In the Old Testament, this is the name of both a servant of Abraham and one of the sons of Moses. The rich man puts his trust in those who are underneath him. Even in hell itself, the rich man expects the poor who were underneath him on earth to serve him in the afterlife.


The rich man in this story does not understand Jewish tradition. “The master of a Hebrew bondman must place him on an equality with himself in meat and drink, in lodging and in bed-clothes, and must act toward him in a brotherly manner; for Scripture always speaks of him as “thy brother.” Ḳiddushin. 20a of the Jewish Mishnah in the Jewish Talmud writes, “Whoever buys a Hebrew servant buys a master for himself.”

When it comes to income inequality, “Before accounting for taxes and transfers, the U.S. ranked 10th in income inequality; among the countries with more unequal income distributions were France, the U.K. and Ireland. But after taking taxes and transfers into account, the U.S. had the second-highest level of inequality, behind only Chile.”

Our employees are associates, but most top level executives have not a clue as to how their employees live their lives, while working for them, and on their time off. “Whoever buys a servant buys a master. He buys someone he is going to be responsible for. When an employer hires someone, he hires someone he is going to be responsible for. That means management by walking around. That means knowing the names, not just of your employees, but of their wives, and their children. Surely it means knowing something of their jobs.

Lazarus is God’s helper. He fulfills Torah in whatever limited ability he has in this life. He acquires Abraham’s bosom. The rich man neglects Torah in this life, and in the process, neglects it in the next. Some argue that it is OK to pollute the environment in this world. After all, the second coming is at hand. They forget Genesis where God commands Adam and Eve to guard and keep the garden. God never rescinds that command. If we cannot guard and keep this planet, why should God give us the next one?Elijah revives the son

Rabbi Jonathan would say: Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, will ultimately fulfill it in wealth; and whoever neglects the Torah in wealth, will ultimately neglect it in poverty.

Against your will you are formed, against your will you are born, against your will you live, against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give a judgment and accounting before the king, king of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

We grandly think we are Christians, a word that means, “Like Christ.” We drive our SUVs, and live in grand houses in gated communities to make sure we do not see the many  Lazarus of this world. Those who fit this mold need to hear Jesus’ warning, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Well, we believe that Christ rose from the dead. Are we persuaded by him? Jesus tells us, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’

What do they say, “I am the NAME your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt/Oppression, out of the house of slavery… Remember that you too were once servants in the land of Egypt/Oppression, and the NAME, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. Deuteronomy 5:15 (the Ten Commandments.) when your son asks you, “What do these decrees and statutes and ordinances mean?” which the NAME, our God, has enjoined on you, you shall say to your son, “We were once servants of Pharaoh in Egypt/Oppression. The NAME brought us out of Egypt/Oppression with a strong hand. He wrought before our eyes signs and wonders, great and dire, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and his whole house. He brought us from there to bring us in and give us the land he had promised on oath to our ancestors. Deuteronomy 6, right after Jesus Great Commandment.

Simons mother in lawWe then read, “This is our Justice.” Our justice is remembering oppression in our lives. When we see others suffering, doing something about it.

“You might say in your heart, “It is my own power and the strength of my own hand that has got me this wealth.” Remember then the NAME, your God, for he is the one who gives you the power to get wealth, by fulfilling, as he has now done, the covenant he swore to your ancestors.” Deuteronomy 8.

The so-called Protestant work ethic and rugged individualism is idolatry of self. God is our helper, not ourselves. The power to get wealth is dependent upon the first rule of loving God first and neighbor second. It is remembering oppression, liturgically, in the Mass, in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

The NAME, your God, is the God of gods, the NAME of masters, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10

There is no room here for building great walls to separate us from them, whoever “them,” is.

This all means being God’s helper, guarding and keeping his planet, in particular what is made in his image, each other. As Rabbi Hillel once said about Torah, “All the rest is commentary; now go study.”

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