The Fifth Sunday of Saint Luke

The Rich Man and Lazarus


    Today’s lesson my dear Christians, is taken from the Gospel reading for the fifth Sunday of St. Luke, which, like two Sundays ago, is another one of Christ’s parables; it is the parable of the Rich Man, and Lazarus. This parable is found only in the Gospel book of St. Luke. As we mentioned last week, like all parables, this one also has an obvious and hidden meaning or if you like, a literal and an allegorical meaning. There are people who do not understand the allegorical or symbolic meanings of the parables, while others can. Why do you think is this? Does it depend on one’s intelligence do you think? The answer is no my dear Christians, cleverness is not a criteria which is needed to understand these parables, the simplest of people can understand these teachings, as long as they strive to truly love God. The Holy Apostles were just simple fishermen, however they were righteous in their ways and their hearts were not dominated by worldly things; instead they sought after the things which lead to salvation. When we begin to truly love our Creator, the Almighty God, then we will begin to have faith in Him; this will allow us to truly believe in Him. Today’s message is a message of love and faith as we will see later on, and these two virtues are co-existent with each other, in fact the one begets the other.

    There are many meanings in this parable, so let us try to understand some of them. It is quite clear that the Jews are symbolized in the parable by the Rich Man and the Gentiles seem to be portrayed by the poor man Lazarus. Something worth remembering is that to God, the rich are not those who are wealthy with the riches of the earth, to Him, the rich are those who believe in Him and keep His Commandments. At the same time, the poor are not those who live in poverty, because to God, the poor are the people who do not believe in Him and disregard His holy word. Whether we are rich or poor, we will all one day physically die and take nothing with us but our good and bad deeds.

    Like the Rich Man who was clothed with fine linen, so too were the Jews clothed with the One True God. On the contrary, the Gentiles or non-Israelites, were awoken by God’s providence when the time had finally come at hand, when they would officially be introduced to the True God. This was portrayed in the parable by the poor man Lazarus, the beggar, who sat outside the Rich Man’s house waiting for the food scraps to be thrown to him. At the same time this was prophetic of how the Jews were to reject Christ. As you know, Christ was basically cast out or “thrown out by the Jews” just like the Rich Man threw his food scraps out to Lazarus. The Rich Man’s food scraps became a life source for Lazarus, who depended on them for survival. In the same way to the Jews Christ was nothing, but to the nations He became their hope for salvation and source for life everlasting. Even when we take the literal message from the parable, the Rich Man is described as someone who had plenty, but would not share with his fellow man who sat outside suffering, eating of the food scraps while dogs licked his wounds.

    You will notice my dear Christians, that in the parable we are only given the name of the poor man; Lazarus, while the other man is only referred to as the Rich Man, what does this mean do you think? Christ here is showing us, that the important and rich people of this world are un-important to God, but the humble, the ones who are neglected in this life, the suffering, are all of great importance to God, every last one of them. HOW POWERFUL ARE THESE MEANINGS AND HOW MERCIFUL IS GOD WITH US, MY DEAR BRETHREN! Can there ever be anyone who after hearing these words, not gain a sense of hope within themselves? At the same time, it doesn’t mean that if you have been blessed with riches, you are not liked by God, because with those riches, you can help many people who are like Lazarus was, imitating Abraham who was blessed with plenty, but was very giving and hospitable. The greatest example rich people can follow is also the most obvious one; God Who is the Creator of all riches and is the All-powerful one, is also the All-merciful one. His mercy is endless with us, even though we flee from Him, blaspheme Him, disregard His Holy Commandments and use the freedom He gave us against Him either directly or indirectly. 

    Furthermore the passage says that Lazarus “was laid at his gate, full of sores.” Again these are two portrayals. The gate portrays the entry of the Kingdom of Heaven, which the Gentiles gained access to as they accepted and believed in Christ the true God whereas the sores symbolize the previous sinfulness of the Gentiles, which God forgave and cleansed. 

    God was merciful and saw the faith which the Gentiles had in their hearts, and accepted them into repentance as the new Israel. Indeed Lazarus was a sinner just like you and I, but Lazarus’ sores were on the outside of his skin. His sores were licked by the dogs, which ultimately gave him some comfort, symbolic of man’s sins being cleansed, once he repents. On the other hand, the Rich Man’s sores or sins were internal, making therapy very difficult, this was due to the Rich Man’s greed and vanity and lack of love and compassion for his fellow man. When “the beggar died,” he “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.”  When this beggar who nobody cared about died, it was like nothing happened, a non-event. But the death of his body signified his birth into the eternal life, a matter of great rejoicing in the heavens, because the angels escorted him into Abraham’s bosom. What does it say about those that die who are righteous, and the appearances, both in this world, and the REAL appearances in the next? Solomon says; “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery and their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace. For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality. And having been a little chastised, they shall be greatly rewarded: for God proved them, and found them worthy for himself. As gold in the furnace hath he tried them, and received them as a burnt offering. And in the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble.”

    What is meant by Abraham’s bosom? To be understood by the Jews, the bosom of Abraham was used to signify salvation.

    Then soon after the Rich Man also died, but unlike Lazarus’ death, the parable actually mentions his burial. The rich people as we know have great big funerals, with plenty of people attending, on the other hand, poor people are sometimes lucky to be found; rotting away somewhere in a street corner. Christ then goes on to say: “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

    When we die, we will all know what we should have done while we were still alive. It will be too late to plead our innocence, because all the evidence is kept in the book of life by Christ who will Judge the living and the dead, there will be no excuses, nor will there be anyone present there to testify for us, we will all accept the consequences for our actions. When the Rich Man died, he knew that he was in a place of anguish and suffering, a place of torment, as it is described in the parable and what made things worse, is that he was able to see from a distance, the happiness and joy and comfort of those who were saved. The Rich Man saw Lazarus resting in Abraham’s Bosom, but notice that Lazarus does not see the Rich Man; this was because where Lazarus was, there is no sorrow or sadness. I want you all to picture yourselves sitting in a bright room with glass walls; do you think you would be able to see into a very dark room from a distance? I think it will be virtually impossible to make out anything which is in there. However, if you were sitting in the dark room with glass walls, you would very easily be able to see into the light filled room. This is how it was for the Rich Man and Lazarus and for all those who have crossed over to the spiritual and eternal world.

    The Rich Man then said to Abraham, “send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” Of course in the spiritual world, a soul cannot physically thirst nor does it have a physical tongue, neither can it physically burn, but with these words we get an understanding of the unpleasantness and punishment which awaits the unrighteous, a punishment that was made for Satan and his dark angels. Abraham then said to him, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” Notice how Abraham said to the Rich Man, SON! Yes, the Rich Man was recognised as being one of God’s people, after all he was a Jew, this also shows us however, that no one is exempt from the final judgment, not even God’s elect, nor will there be favouritism for them if they haven’t kept their covenant with God intact.

    Abraham said to him, remember that you had plenty in your lifetime, pleasures, luxuries, happiness and wealth, whereas Lazarus had nothing but displeasure, discomfort, sorrow and poverty in his lifetime, so now it is his time to be comforted and yours to be tormented.

    Again Abraham goes on to say “between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

    Let there be no doubt about it, hell is eternal and real! Even though these days hell and Satan are believed to be just myths. The Rich Man acknowledged his guilt, he wanted to make amends, but after death there is no repentance.

    Further the Rich Man said, “I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”

    All of a sudden, he remembers his brothers and their actions, but he also pays attention to Lazarus, whom he neglected while they were alive. And Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. The Rich Man said, “Nay, father Abraham but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.” He knew his brothers because he was also like them. But Abraham’s response was: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

    This comment which Abraham made is one which can be used even in our times. People seem to have the idea that if they see then they will believe. Did the Jews not see Christ? They saw Him and spoke to Him, but did not believe in Him, because they were blinded by their pride and shallow faith, which is why when the Jews certainly heard this part of the parable it angered them, and increased their desire to put Christ to death. Those who do not keep the Holy Scriptures and Holy Traditions of the Church or keep God’s Commandments, will never be regarded as followers of Christ, even if they were to physically see Him return on earth, because the Word of God is Christ Himself. That is why our relationship with God is based upon how much faith we have in Him and how much we love Him. Of course to love Christ means to keep His Commandments.

    The Rich Man, like so many people in this life, said he believed, but did not change. He was not compassionate. His overindulgence in luxury numbed his senses, as he perished in worldly splendour. Lazarus, the blessed one, suffered with patience and was saved. May God help us also, to endure all things until the very end of our lives, so that we too may be taken up to Abraham’s Bosom, by the heavenly angels. Amen.


Hieromonk Sozómenos
Saints Constantine & Helen Parish and
Holy Chapel of Saint Nektarios
Birmingham, UK. - 2011 a.d.

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