Click here for the reading: Luke 16:19-31.
This parable, which appears in Luke with no commentary or dialogue, follows on the heels of the parable of the dishonest manager. The Pharisees, “who were lovers of money,” ridiculed Jesus for his apparent folly when it comes to the things of this world. The fate of Lazarus and the rich man lend weight to his argument. Not only is righteousness more valuable than money, it is more valuable in eternity. The utter uselessness of the rich man’s wealth and luxury as he languishes in Hades stands in immeasurably stark contrast to the comfort enjoyed by Lazarus at Abraham’s side.
Besides the time perspective that is lacking among lovers of money, there is also the finality of the judgment. The chasm may not be crossed. At the point of death there is no changing one’s mind, no going back on the things one has loved. Indeed, what you have loved in this life will be yours for eternity. Lazarus, who did not love wealth, is not failed by wealth beyond the grave.
Something of the hardness of men’s hearts is revealed by the response of Abraham to the rich man’s request. It is not for lack of miracles or proofs that men do not practice wisdom. It is on account of a basic orientation of the heart. Whatever the heart loves determines the choosing of the will and the thinking of the mind. This makes it easy for the hard-hearted to explain away even the most startling, ghostly apparition. Something more is needed.
Why does the rich man receive no mercy? It is not that mercy is exhausted nor that his plight does not warrant pity. Rather, even if mercy were offered, he would not receive it as mercy, but as something he was due. His distaste for mercy while alive simply carries through into the grave. He was utterly unwilling to show mercy to Lazarus, whose need was always before his eyes. Lazarus sat at the rich man’s gate day in and day out even while the rich man feasted in luxury. The rich man’s prideful, selfish consumption of whatever came in his view was a failure to acknowledge that his goods were given to him so he could love his neighbor. He failed to realize the vacuousness of inviting those who can repay to a feast. He saw no use for mercy even when the opportunity to bless Lazarus was plainly laid before him. Nor would he learn a lesson from the dogs, who in their irrationality nonetheless showed pity to this poor man. The rich man’s disregard for mercy in life revealed the attitude of his heart. He despised mercy, and so it would be impossible for him to receive it.