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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Fr. Scott A. Haynes

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus has its literal meaning, but the Fathers of the Church also have read it with allegorical meaning. They speak of Lazarus in reference to the Gentiles, and the Rich man as representative of the Jews. Understand that, with the coming of Christ, the Gentiles were at the threshold of salvation – they were laying at the gate of the rich man.

The Gospel reports that the rich man “was clothed in purple and fine linen, and dined sumptuously every day.”[1]There are two meanings here. In the literal meaning, the rich man dressed and ate well. He had plenty enough to spare, and as we see from the Gospel he knew who Lazarus was, yet during his earthly life, he never bothered to even cast a glance at him.

Allegorically, the Jews were clothed not with purple clothes but with the law of God’s covenant. And daily every faithful Jew dined sumptuously on the richness of God’s word. It is well that the Jews were so well endowed with the covenant of God, but our Lord was not pleased when, out of self-righteousness, they refused to practice charity toward the Gentiles.

The Gospel says that Lazarus “was laid at his gate, full of sores.”[2]Again there are two meanings. The Gentiles were entering into the Kingdom[3], but the Pharisees and the Sadduces were too arrogant to see. They thought that their purple and fine linen would last into the next age, and indeed, it would not.

We also have another meaning to think about here. Who is laid at our gate? Is there a beggar at our gate? Is it a stranger, is it a friend, an enemy or your brother? What might that beggar be seeking? Clothing, food, consolation, encouragement, maybe even forgiveness. Who is laid at our gate? We had better know. The rich man was without excuse concerning Lazarus because he knew him. He saw him at his gate every day, and he ignored him.

The parable also mentions Abraham’s bosom—the place of salvation. In this parable, Jesus reveals the foolishness of the Jews, and they got the message. This is one of the reasons they hated Christ so much, because they comprehended what He was saying in this parable – that they were not longer true sons of Abraham – they did not have hearts on fire for God.

After all, He said to them in another place, “I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom,”[4] the Jews, those who did not understand, those who did not want to live according to what they had learned, “shall be cast out into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[5] The East and West here represent the Jews and the Gentiles. Salvation was being made manifest for all men, and it was before the eyes of these proud Jews, and they did not see it, or perhaps it is right to say, they would not see it.

The Scriptures report: “And in hell [the rich man] lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”[6] Despite the objections of the modernists who deny the reality of hell, Christ teaches hell is a place where the damned suffer actual torments. Some of these torments are the “would-ofs” the “could-ofs” and the “should-ofs.” At the moment of our particular judgment, we will see ourselves clearly, from God’s perspective.

As we consider the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus, let us make a good examination of conscience and resolve to show our spiritual wounds and sores to Christ in the Sacrament of Confession. We should start practicing charity toward our neighbor, so that like Lazarus we may rejoice one day in the bosom of Abraham and hear the voice of the Father say: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”[7]

Notes: [1] Luke 16:19. [2] Ibid. [3] Cf. Matthew 21:31. [4] Matthew 8:11-12. [5] Matthew 8:11-12. [6] Luke 16:23. [7] Matthew 25:23.


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