As I spend time initially reflecting on a gospel reading for a homily, I look for details about the reading. A few about the story of Lazarus & the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31):
- This particular story is unique to the Gospel of Luke and is not in any of the other three Gospels.
- The poor man Lazarus is a different person than Lazarus the brother of Mary & Martha that we read about in John 11 (the story of Lazarus risen from the dead).
- The Orthodox Study Bible notes on 16:26 that the Rich Man suffers torment after his death because of the hardness of his heart, not because he had riches during his earthly life. We see this in 16:24 when the Rich Man asks Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water to refresh the Rich Man. Even after death, the Rich Man sees Lazarus as one beneath him!
- An interesting detail is that we never hear Lazarus speaking in this story, but he is named. “The Rich Man” dialogues throughout the story with Abraham, but we are never told what “the Rich Man’s” name is. We often see in Scripture how names and being named, especially being named by God, have significance. Isn’t there significance that “the Rich Man” is never actually named, even though he is the central figure speaking in this story? Is he being presented as less of a person because he is not named? Does this emphasize his hardness of heart?
- It is not a popular idea in this day and age, but this story makes the clear point that the particular judgment each of us undergoes at death is final: we are either in the “bosom of Abraham” as is Lazarus, or we suffer the torments of the Rich Man.
- The story also shows that communication from or with the dead is not possible nor to be expected. The Rich Man may have the desire for Abraham to warn his brothers about the judgment after death, but Abraham refuses this possibility.
- Central to Abraham’s response to this request, it is clear that some will not be persuaded even by the appearance of the dead patriarch. We see similar things in other places in the Gospels: people not persuaded by the miracles of Christ. We even see the opposite: those moved to oppose and revile Christ as the result of witnessing His miracles.
- On a related note: Abraham points out that all the necessary information we need concerning life after death is already available to us. Do we have authentic faith to accept this information, or are we still expecting unnecessary signs to somehow persuade us?