19 Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. 20 At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
22 Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.
24 The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’
25 But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’
27 Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28 For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’
29 But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’
30 The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’
31 But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’”
There are four rich men in Luke’s Gospel and the drama with each one ratchets up a notch. The rich man here is the second one we have encountered and he is not so alone as the rich fool was, but for all his interaction with Lazarus, he may as well have been. The rich man ignores Lazarus outside his gate until they both die, and even in the afterlife the rich man only addresses Abraham, never Lazarus directly.
In fact, even in death the rich man wants to treat Lazarus as his servant, to fetch him water and deliver messages to his brothers. His arrogance remains even after he experiences the woes from the Sermon on the Plain. This speaks to the reversal Luke has built his Gospel around since Mary sang, Zechariah prophesied and Jesus announced it at the beginning of his ministry. Abraham points out this reversal to the rich man in v.25.
But in responding to the pleas for his siblings, Abraham points out that the reversal he has experienced is not inevitable for them. They have Moses and the prophets, both of which condemn the rich man’s lack of action toward Lazarus. Abraham acknowledges that some still may not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead. Luke is preparing us for the third and fourth rich men, one of whom will reject Jesus and one of whom accepts him. He is also preparing us for the continued rejection of Jesus after his resurrection he records in Acts. The very religious leaders who mocked Jesus for teaching about sharing possessions have failed to understand the same mandate in the Law and the Prophets and they are as doomed as this rich man and his brothers. Once again, Luke could not make the choice more stark. People who ignore those in need around them are not yet followers of Jesus.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.