The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is well-known. So well known is it that we read over the details without giving them much thought. So, let’s slow down. Let’s linger over a few details and in the process, we may find ourselves spiritually refreshed. But how might we approach the text? Well, if we were going to look at the whole, we might break it up this way:
1. Ante-death (vv. 19-21)
2. At death (v. 22-23a)
3. After death (vv. 23b-31)
What is more, each part is worth an extensive look, and we may take that look over the next couple of posts. However, for this post, I would like to look at the first several verses or what I have called, Ante-death. Of course, this simply means that we are going to look at the rich man and Lazarus before or prior to their deaths. But how? How shall we make such a comparison? The answer is in the text. Luke nicely breaks down the comparison for us. For example, he compares these two men on the basis of life’s necessities: Clothes, food, and dwelling.
Clothes, Food, and Dwelling
It is the case that in the first century, whitened wool was exceedingly costly because it was time consuming to make. The same could be said for the purple worn by the rich man in the story. But he didn’t simply wear purple. He also wore fine-linen. Now, this is interesting because this word meant under-garments. In fact, this was the Calvin Klein of undergarments in the first century! In other words, the rich man was fantastically adorned and comfortable. By contrast, Lazarus’s clothes are not mentioned. Instead, we are simply told that the man was covered by or clothed with sores. He was not comfortable.
When it came to food, the rich man was not lacking in extravagance. The rich of the first century enjoyed occasional feasts but this man feasted sumptuously every day! However, by contrast Lazarus longed to eat what fell from the table of the rich man. Joachim Jeremias, in his book on the Parables, suggests that this was not crumbs that fell from the table, but a loaf of bread was kept on the table for guests to use as napkins. When finished with a piece, they would simply cast it to the floor. Jeremias suggests that this was the bread for which Lazarus longed. This is not to mention the dogs, not domesticated household love-bugs, but street dogs. The text reads, “even worse” the dogs aggravated Lazarus’s condition.
And then, there was the dwelling. R.C. Sproul once wrote a novel called Johnny, Come Home. I heard him speak about learning to write a story. He spoke of economy, that is, how to communicate the surroundings of a scene by telling the reader one thing. For instance, if you wanted to communicate that the main character had entered a dive bar, you might say, “When he entered the bar, his gaze fell on an old clock covered in dust and layered with grease making it difficult to read the time.” In this story, Jesus mentioned one feature of the rich man’s dwelling. The gate. But this is no little gate on a little white picket fence. The word is used of the Temple gates in Acts 12:10 and 14:13. This is a large gate and so the house it guarded was likely a large house. However, Lazarus’s home is not mentioned. Instead it says that he was cast by the gate. Thus, he was likely crippled and was at the whim of whoever carried and cast him.
Curse or Blessings
The difference between these two individuals is palpable. But the comparison raises a question. Was the rich man blessed while Lazarus was cursed? If you were to look at Deuteronomy 28:35 you would find a verse in the midst of curses for covenantal disobedience. There you would read that covenant breakers would be covered with boils. However, in the Greek translation of the Hebrew (LXX) it is the same Greek word used to describe Lazarus’s sores. So, is Lazarus under curse? When we look at the whole picture it certainly looks to be the case. But is it?
Stop and think about the first several verses. Does the Lazarus have anything? Does he have anything that the rich man does not have? He certainly does.
He has a name. He is Lazarus.
Now, why is that important? It is important because the Good Shepherd knows His sheep by name. Consider a couple of examples,
Isaiah 43:1b, “Fear not, For I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
John 10:3, “To him the gatekeeper opens, the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
What is more, we see this idea of intimacy connected to the name in the Old and in the New Testaments. For example, when the name is doubled it is an expression of intimacy. Thus, when God says, “Abraham, Abraham,” He is not merely calling for the man’s attention, he is expressing something about their relationship. Or consider the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21, there Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of heaven.” In other words, not everyone who claims intimacy with Jesus enjoys intimacy. In fact, He will say to some, “I never knew you.”
Is Lazarus cursed? Certainly not, Lazarus has a name. He may bear the humiliation of Christ in this world but he does not bear the curse, his Lord bore that for him. And if you are in Christ, the same is true of you. If He knows your name, then you are not cursed. You are known. I don’t know what could be more refreshing than to be known by the living God. Lazarus has a name. Amen.