The context of the First Sunday after Trinity’s gospel is an encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees, whom we told are “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). Doubtless Jesus tells this account (or parable?) of the rich man and Lazarus for their benefit as well as ours.
Two things stand out as the overarching themes of this reading. The first is the finality of death. When Lazarus and the Rich Man die there is no changing their station after death. The rich man goes to hades and Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:22) a Hebraic euphemism for heaven. Though in the story there is verbal communication between the rich man and Abraham, there can be no passage between heaven and hell, no moving up or down. A great chasm is fixed between father Abraham and the rich man in hell (Luke 16:26).
We can speculate here a great deal about the spatial set-up of the afterlife, and many have. But the account is meant to teach us something regarding repentance and faith, not the exact parameters of heaven and hell. We must rest in what is revealed to us here and not delve too deeply into what is not revealed. The eternal things of the afterlife, those things outside of time and space are put here by Jesus in temporal and spatial terms in order that we would have some grasp of the story, like a father teaching his children in simple words things that are beyond their comprehension.
The second theme which Jesus teaches is the sufficiency of the word of scripture. The scriptures are sufficient for the conversion of men to the good news of the gospel. The rich man wished to send his brothers, still living, a spiritual encounter with the dead Lazarus (much like Jacob Marley in Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” was sent to Ebenezer Scrooge) in order to scare them straight, that they would turn from their evils and do good. Abraham says to the rich man “they have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). Abraham, who came before Moses, points to the writings of Moses and the prophets as that which will teach, convert, and sustain the brothers, as it had Lazarus in his earthly life.
Jesus teaches that the scripture alone is able to convert hearts and minds, not miracles (Luke 16:31). The one who hears the scripture and takes it to heart is the true son of Abraham. The rich man though bodily descended from the patriarch is not a son of Abraham, for he will not hear the scriptures. The word of the proverb comes to mind “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who receives the commandment will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13).
The rich man rejected God’s purposes in the preaching of the word, even in death. His emphatic “no!” (Luke 16:30) to what Abraham told him across the great chasm perfectly reflected what he believed in his earthly life: He would not hear preaching and instruction. He rejects God’s means of grace. Lazarus, though poor and beggarly hears the word of God, clings to the promises that it makes to him and is accounted righteous, sharing the faith of his father Abraham (Romans 4:16).
We as Christ’s Church not only have Moses and the Prophets in the Old Testament scripture, but Christ and the Apostles the New Testament which bear witness to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for us men and for our salvation. Let us hear them and believe “For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).