These are a few musings that were stoked by the comments on “Send Lazarus” or “Now You Remember My Name?” , and the ideas are just beginning to take shape, so please feel free to comment on and correct what you read here. I had focused on the concrete use of material wealth for one’s spiritual welfare in this parable, which I still believe is correct, but Jesus' parables do have many levels and an interesting detail, which I had overlooked, made me think that perhaps wealth does indeed stand allegorically for spiritual riches also. The lectionary reading has “Jesus said to the Pharisees” preceding this parable. This phrase does not precede the parable directly, or at all, but beginning at Luke 16:14 Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and in verse 15 it states “he said to them.” What comes after in the rest of Luke 16 is directed to the Pharisees. This is significant, it seems, as 16:1-13 is told to the disciples and beginning in 17:1 the disciples are addressed again.
I want to be careful here, for it is easy enough to cast the Pharisees as the eternal religious “bad guys” and not realize that we ourselves might engage in the same behaviors as certain Pharisees did. I think that is jesus' point: it is the behavior not the name that gets you in trouble. That we are not Pharisees by name does not let us off the hook for our behavior. I do not think a prayer that begins, “I thank you that I am not like the Pharisees” is any better than one that begins, “I thank you that I am not like this tax collector.” Nevertheless, in this parable, Jesus directs it specifically to the Pharisees. In 16:14, the Pharisees were addressed as “lovers of money” and those who attempted to justify themselves “in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (16:15). This might indicate a parable that is simply directed at love of money and material goods, but could it also reflect spiritual greediness and waste?
In Mark 7:26-28 (cf. Matthew 15:21-28), Jesus says to the Syro-phoenician woman that “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”; she answered that “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Each of these elements, food, crumbs and dogs, appear in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and without question food and crumbs indicate spiritual goods in Jesus’ encounter with the woman. This story, however, does not appear in Luke and Lazarus does not seem to be asking for healing in the parable, for himself or a child of his, and he does not seem to be a Gentile in the parable. It still might be possible, though, to understand the feasting as spiritual riches and the crumbs as a desire that Lazarus has to share in those riches.
If that is the case, wasted spiritual riches would be even more significant than material riches, but what is more the one who seems to have no spiritual riches, Lazarus, is the one who actually does have them, while those who appear to have them in abundance, the Pharisees, waste their abundance or do not recognize what they have. John Mansfield’s comment, “on the subject of pain felt by the rich man I have read that it may have been increased had his brothers not eventually come,” is an interesting one and turns us to spiritual riches. I take it that John means that if his brothers do not come to the bosom of Father Abraham his suffering will increase – at least that is how I am reading it. Yet, the brothers - should we understand them as fellow Pharisees? - have all of the spiritual riches they need, “Moses and the Prophets” (16:31), and this should be sufficient to bring them to salvation.
John W. Martens