Luke 16:19-31


A reversal at the outset of the story is that the beggar is given a name and the rich man is not. That single fact ought to alert us that the story we are about to hear is going have surprises in it.

Year C

Sunday Between September 25 and October 1 Inclusive

Proper 21, Ordinary Time 26

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 16:19-31, The Message   or   Luke 16:19-31, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required. Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart,"


The story of the nameless rich man and the named beggar, Lazarus, (Hebrew for, "Our God has helped") is placed by Luke between Verse 16:14:

You cannot serve both God and Money.

and Verse 17:1:

Occasions for stumbling are bound to come.

seemingly as an illustration of both truths.

As is typical with Jesus and ourselves, there are a number of assumptions and reversals in this story.

Begging on the streets and the extreme contrast between the rich and the poorest would be well known to Jesus' hearers. A reversal at the outset of the story is that the beggar is given a name and the rich man is not. That single fact ought to alert us that the story we are about to hear is going have surprises in it.

Notice that the story does not have a judgment scene in it. They both die, and the next scene is of the rich man in hell and the beggar with Abraham in paradise. Verse 25 states this situation is simply a balancing of what had gone before. But whereas BEFORE the rich man COULD have given Lazarus succor but did not; NOW Lazarus CANNOT aid the rich man. This revelation heightens the urgency of the need to act in this lifetime.

And note again, that the reason Abraham does not send Lazarus to warn the brothers is NOT because he cannot, but because (a) they already have all the warnings and teachings they need from Moses and the prophets, and (b) having already not listened to Moses, their hearing and hearts are hardened even to warnings from someone risen from the dead (And just who might that be? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

It should also be noted that this story is often wrongly titled, "The Rich Man and Lazarus." It should be titled:

The Indifferent-Man-Who-Could-Have-Listened-to-Moses-and-the-Prophets-and-Followed-God's-Way-of-Life-and-Been-Welcomed-Into-Paradise-by-Father-Abraham-But-Chose-Not-To and Lazarus.

That is, the rich man and his brothers are NOT condemned because of their wealth, but because they were indifferent to the plight of Lazarus and did nothing to relieve his suffering.

This would not have happened if only they had not also been indifferent to the teachings of Moses and the prophets which clearly showed them God's concern for the poor.

It's not too hard to tell what the moral of this story is.

I wondered what it is in us today that deadens our hearing and hearts to its teaching?

Even - perhaps, especially - we who HAVE had someone rise from the dead to confirm the truth of the teachings of Moses and the prophets?

David Ewart,,
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.

Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 294-95; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. 

Luke 16:19-31 (NRSV)

   19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 27 He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house—28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29 Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30 He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"  

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Luke 16:19-31 (The Message)

   19 "There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. 20 A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. 21 All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man's table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores.

   22 "Then he died, this poor man, and was taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell and in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance and Lazarus in his lap. 24 He called out, 'Father Abraham, mercy! Have mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue. I'm in agony in this fire.'

   25 "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that in your lifetime you got the good things and Lazarus the bad things. It's not like that here. Here he's consoled and you're tormented. 26 Besides, in all these matters there is a huge chasm set between us so that no one can go from us to you even if he wanted to, nor can anyone cross over from you to us.'

   27 "The rich man said, 'Then let me ask you, Father: Send him to the house of my father 28 where I have five brothers, so he can tell them the score and warn them so they won't end up here in this place of torment.'

   29 "Abraham answered, 'They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.'

   30 " 'I know, Father Abraham,' he said, 'but they're not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.'

   31 "Abraham replied, 'If they won't listen to Moses and the Prophets, they're not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.'"  

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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