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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

The Rich Man and Lazarus - Luke 16:9-31

To begin, this particular parable may have some connection with the first parable told by Jesus in this sixteenth chapter of Luke: The Shrewd Manager, or The Dishonourable Manager (Hendriksen 782). There is no boundary to seperate this story from its predecessors (Green 604). The them of chapter 16 is material possessions, the use of wealth, and the serving of God and not money. William Hendriksen states that this particular account is the climax of the two stories of The Shrewd Steward and the Rich Man and Lazarus. He also mentions that in chapter 15 the main thread of the teachings are the wrong attitude towards people, and the rich man did not make friends with people like verses 1-18 instructs. The rich man was most likely one highly regarded by men, and yet, disgusting in the eyes of God. In the Shrewd Manager parable, Jesus was teaching His listeners that worldly people are more 'forward-looking' than those of the light. Jesus is not approving of the steward's dishonesty, since you cannot 'serve God and money.' But the Pharisees, who are listening to all of Jesus' words, jeered at Him because they were lovers of money (Hendriksen 782). They were materialists, who believed that material wealth was a blessing from God, in which case, material poverty was a sign of God's disfavour (DeLashmutt). Thus, Jesus tells them that they are detestable in God's sight, and goes on to tell this parable in response to jeering, showing them what will happen if they do not repent.

It is believed by many scholars that Jesus is using a popular story genre of Jewish folk tales, which originated in Egypt about a poor man and a rich man whose circumstances are reversed (Wilson). Even now there are jokes of a man dying and going to the 'pearly gates', or meeting St. Peter. But Jesus is not joking. He is simply using this type of story to make His spiritual point. (Wilson)

It is important to note, before continuing, that Lazarus is the first, and only character in one of Jesus' parables to be given a name. His name comes from the Greek name Lazaros, which in turn is from the name Eleazaros, which is the representation of the Hebrew name Eleazor, which means 'God has helped' (Hendriksen 783). It is said that Lazarus was given a name for one of two reasons: because he needed a name, and this was the first to come to Jesus' mind; or because it was to show that he had placed all his trust in God (Hendriksen 783). The meaning of his name is a possible hint to his piety (Wilson). Either reason works, and him having a name makes him become more human (Tiede 290).

The story begins with an unmistakable contrast between the two main characters. Joel Green believes that Jesus symbolized the social distance between them through the gate and the impassable chasm. The rich man of the story, sometimes referred to as Dives, which is Latin for "rich man" is described as quite rich indeed. Clothing is the first to be described. The rich man is wearing purple clothing, which is universally known as being quite expensive, since the colour must be extracted from the shell of a certain snail, through a costly and time-consuming ordeal. The linen mentioned was not cheap, either. Only those of the wealthy class could afford such apparel (DeLashmutt). Lazarus' clothes are not mentioned at all. Instead what is mentioned is the image that he is covered in sores all over his body. The fact that the dogs came and licked his sores could indicate that he was so weak that he could not stop the creatures from doing so (DeLashmutt).

Secondly, food is mentioned. Green claims that the rich man is like King Agrippa II, who had daily banquets. The lost son shows that banquets were given for special occasions, however, it is said that the rich man had such banquets every day, and in those days, not even the rich could afford to kill a calf daily (Green 606). The rich man lives in luxury as the beggar, who is laid at his gate lives in misery.

Let us take a moment to look at the significance of the gate. The Greek word παλον is defined as a 'gateway, entrance gate; especially of a large, impressive temples and places' (Wilson). What does this say of the rich man? That he had a large estate or house compound in which he lived, thus, adding to the notion that he was 'filthy rich'. The gate takes on an even greater meaning. It is a divider between these two classes of people. Amos reads in chapter 5 that inside the gate justice is to be served. And where is Lazarus? He is laid outside of the gate.

Moving on, Lazarus has been laid at the rich man's gate. And like the younger son who longed to fill himself with the food for pigs in the Prodigal Son parable, Lazarus longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. David Tiede suggests that the rich man may not have been evil. He claims that perhaps the rich man made sure that the scraps of his table made it to Lazarus. This is particular view of the rich man, though, is very questionable. Green suggests that Lazarus is simply eating the food that was scavenged by dogs, which included not only morsels, but also the pieces of bread used as napkins and then thrown aside (Green 606).