Jesus is still poking at the scribes and Pharisees. After hammering them for their insistence on perverting Moses to feed their idolatrous materialism, He points out how there was no way they could qualify for entrance into His Messianic Kingdom. He chose as an example His standard for dealing with divorce and remarriage was much tougher than Moses, contrasted against the Pharisaical teaching that was much looser than Moses. God could see their evil hearts.
Then Jesus tells another parable. He starts off with some unnamed rich man whose wealth was off the scale. Wearing purple was for emperors because this particular dye didn’t fade, but actually got brighter with age and exposure to the sun. The dye was cooked in vats and it was thread they dyed before weaving, not finished cloth or garments. Something like a million murex rock snails died to make something the size of a beach towel, and the fabric was quite literally worth it’s weight in gold.
Naturally, this man dressed in purple could afford the most expensive habits. Perhaps you are aware that for Jewish folks in Jesus’ day, “bread” meant a flat cake like modern pita. This rich man did as many others, keeping a stack of this flat bread on hand at meal times to wipe his hands. This was often tossed out to beggars as a way of keeping the Mosaic Law about being generous to beggars. Nobody was fooled at how this was an insulting gesture.
This time Jesus gives a name to the other figure in the story. Lazarus was a common nickname to represent Elazar (or Eliezer), Hebrew for “God is my Helper.” His point is the meaning of the name, of course, for this fellow got precious little help from any man. He was covered in sores and often set at the gate of the rich man’s house so he could catch some of those cast off pieces of bread. While sitting there in the heat of the day, dogs would come up and lick his sores. Keep in mind that dogs in that time and place were seldom friendly to humans, and Jews hated them, so this was way more attention from dogs than any Jew could tolerate. Yet it was this canine instinct to lick his wounds that positioned him as accepted among them.
So how degraded was this poor Lazarus? We recall that the scribes and Pharisees taught that wealth was the mark of God’s favor, while they spoke of the peasants as accursed. Poor Lazarus was the cursed of the accursed, the most pitiful wretch in Israel.
Immediately Jesus knocks holes in Pharisaical teaching. This pitiful wretch ended up in Heaven, while the rich man was in Hell. The tormented soul of the rich man cried out to his presumed patron saint, Abraham, for relief. He asked only that Lazarus do for him what he had done for Lazarus, just one little taste of the thing he needed most. Doesn’t that sound fair? You’ll notice the rich man does not complain of any injustice in his fate, knowing that he had rejected the honest demands of the Covenant.
Apparently Lazarus was true to his name, having maintained a trust in God despite the circumstances of his life. Abraham responded to the rich man that this eternal outcome wasn’t the only thing he didn’t understand. It wasn’t some kind of cosmic balance, as if being rich was a sin and poverty was a virtue, but in Hebrew society it often worked out that way because the likes of the scribes and Pharisees took advantage of their positions. In other words, it wasn’t God who made them wealthy; they got it by oppression.
Furthermore, while the good and bad were sometimes hard to tell apart in human existence, in eternity the moral polarity was absolute. Those who had accepted the good with the bad and clung to Abraham in their lives could expect Abraham to cling to them after death. Those who rejected the more weighty demands of the Covenant were outside of any blessings of Abraham. They weren’t his children.
And was it noble for the rich man to plead that Lazarus return to life lone enough to testify to the five wealthy brothers? Surely they would believe if they saw someone raised from the dead! Well, another Lazarus that Jesus actually did literally raise from the dead didn’t change any of the Pharisees or Sadducees, for that matter. They plotted to put that other Lazarus back into his grave. And they sure didn’t believe Jesus after He rose from the dead. So Abraham justly notes that it won’t make any difference if this Lazarus goes back and warns them, because their hearts are what condemned them, not merely their beliefs and actions.
Sharing DNA with Abraham meant nothing, as Jesus will eventually tell them. It required the faith of Abraham to inherit his blessings, a commitment from the heart to the God of Abraham.