Bishop Stacy F. Sauls reflects on the parable of poor Lazarus and the rich man.
OK, this one is troubling. It’s the story of a rich man and Lazarus, the poor man just outside the rich man’s gate. (Luke 16:19-31)
The rich man “was dressed in purple and fine linen and . . . feasted sumptuously every day.” On the other hand, there was Lazarus, “covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table.” It is quite the contrast.
Lazarus died. The rich man also died and was buried. Only in his torment in Hades does the rich man realize the chasm between him and God. He asks Abraham to have Lazarus bring him water. Abraham refuses. “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things.” Then he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers so that they would not meet a similar fate. Again, Abraham refuses. “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.”
The rich man’s torment in Hades is not what is meant to catch our attention or even scare us. What ought to scare us is the detail in the parable that the poor man has a name, Lazarus, and the rich man does not. Something about the rich man’s life leaves him nameless.
It is not, I think, that the rich man was bad. We certainly have no reason from the parable to think so. It is not, I think, that the rich man had great wealth. I see no reason to think from the parable that the rich man is punished for his wealth. It is not, I think, that the rich man’s gain was ill gotten. Again, the parable gives us no reason to think so.
The point is that names are superfluous unless we are in relationship with one another. I do not need to know the name of someone with whom I have no contact. I do not need to know the name of someone who does not affect my life. I do need to know the name of those I love. And without love, I myself might as well have no name at all.
It seems to me that the rich man’s failure is that he bypassed the opportunity to love Lazarus because there can be no love without sharing. His failure to share the scraps from his sumptuous table is startling given the picture of the man just outside his gate, covered with sores, starving, and fighting off the dogs. Sharing is what gives us a name. It is what makes us who we are. Otherwise, we’re just another rich man unknown to anyone who cares.