Last time, we explored the story of Lazarus in John 11, and speculated that while this revivification story is great for us to read about in hindsight, it might not have been all that hot to experience. Especially for Lazarus.
But today, I want to talk about the other Lazarus. (Did you think there was only one Lazarus in the Bible? If so, you’re wrong … or are you?)
While Lazarus the brother of Mary and Martha is mentioned only in John’s Gospel, in Luke 16:19-31, we read a parable about another pitiable man of the same name.
Luke’s Lazarus is a pathetic beggar covered with sores, too weak and helpless to shoo away the dogs that come to lick his scabs. Lazarus was laid at the gate of a rich man’s house, and the rich man refused to give him the time of day. Later, when both men die, their fortunes become reversed: the rich man is in torment in Hades, but he can see Lazarus far away, on the other side of a great chasm – standing in a place of honor with none other than Father Abraham.
‘Yo, Lazarus! Come dip the tip of your finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire,’ the rich man says. (Actually, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus on that errand, but you get the idea.)
Abraham – speaking with a God-like authority we don’t really see from him in the Genesis story – refuses, explaining that the rich man is getting what he deserved, in light of a lifetime of selfishness. The rich man then suggests that Lazarus be sent back to earth to warn his family to not make the same mistakes he’s made. Abraham also says no to this request, saying humanity doesn’t need visitors from eternity to tell them how to conduct themselves, they have the Bible.
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:31
Pretty sobering and intriguing stuff, isn’t it? What freaks me out the most is the idea that heaven is visible from hell. The damned are not only in agony, they get to see that the blessed are in harmony – knowing that a great chasm ensures that never the twain shall meet. (Now, this is a parable – a fictional story made up by Jesus to teach us something – so it’s probably unwise to put too much stock in the setting, but the picture it paints is pretty freaky.)
But let’s get back to Lazarus.
I think it’s interesting that this parable only appears in Luke’s Gospel, and also that this Lazarus is the only person named in any of Jesus’ parables in any of the Gospels.
Also noteworthy is that, like the John 11 Lazarus story, the parable also centres around what happens to Lazarus after he dies, and discusses the idea of Lazarus being sent back to the land of the living.
Could John’s Lazarus and Luke’s Lazarus be connected, somehow?
In this article, Mark P. Shea suggests that they are. He says there’s reason to think that in Luke, Jesus is reflecting on the real-life circumstances of the real-life Lazarus and drawing a spiritual lesson from them.
“If that is the case, then it would explain a great deal about Jesus’ deeply angry reaction here. For if the manner of Lazarus’ death is reflected by the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, then it may well be a description of the miserable circumstances of Lazarus’ actual death. If so, then Jesus’ dear friend died, not by accident or mere sickness, but of culpable and even criminal neglect by wealthy members of his community who had the power to help him and did nothing, but are now hypocritically mourning. In fact, some of the early Church fathers argued that this was exactly the case and identify the rich man of the parable as Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk 7).”
I wouldn’t put all my Easter eggs in Shea’s basket here – the evidence that conclusions and assumptions about ancient times are based on is often pretty thin, after all – but it is an interesting theory.
And if it’s correct, it provides some insight into why Jesus didn’t swoop in to save His friend when He knew he was sick – and why he’s so upset in John 11:33-35: his friend suffered needlessly because the people closest to him missed the boat on their opportunity to help him. They failed the test, and blamed Jesus for not intervening.
Does this story sound at all familiar to you? It sure does to me.
How many people around the world are sick, hungry and thirsty while we live more comfortably than the kings and emperors of Jesus’ day? How much of our resources are we using to help reduce their misery?
We wonder out loud why our Father allows His children to endure such misery, saying, ‘God, why don’t you DO something?’
And we know, deep down, that Jesus is asking us the same question of us.
The Bible clearly tells us that every person in the world bears the image of God, and instructs us to take care of each other.
And yet here we sit.
John 11:35 tells us that ‘Jesus wept.’ I wonder if he ever stopped.
Peace be with you.