Lectionary Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 16:19-31:


Perhaps too sick to move on his own, [Lazarus] has been reduced to begging near the ornate “entrance” (pylōn) to the rich man’s mansion. While there is perhaps a hidden mercy in the dogs licking his suppurating stores, the dog was considered in Jewish law an unclean animal, and the scene so powerfully sketched in two verses—of Lazarus, prostrate, licked by dogs, all the while yearning for crumbs from the sumptuous table of the rich man as if he were himself a dog—is one of palpable anguish. It seems a mercy, also, therefore, when he dies, and indeed that is precisely to the heart of Jesus’s exemplum.

The poor beggar is carried into “Abraham’s bosom” immediately; meanwhile, the rich man has also died and gone on a one-way ticket straight to Hades (16:22-23). Suddenly, the tables are turned. This is a story of complete reversal. The once comfortable man, now bereft of his fine garments and gourmet fare, is in torment more acute than the erstwhile sufferings of poor Lazarus. It is Lazarus who is now rich; the worldly rich man has been “sent empty away,” not into some oblivion but rather into an acute and tortured consciousness of the vastly better situation of the once-wretched man he had so studiously ignored—even though he lay in misery right on his doorstep and even though he had abundant means to alleviate his suffering

It is therefore not only his own immediate torment that anguishes the poor rich man; as is common in Jewish views of the afterlife (2 Esdras 7.85, 93; 2 Baruch 51.5-6), he is acutely conscious of the sublime happiness of the “blessed.” That point is amplified immediately by the phrase “Abraham’s bosom,” for in stunning contradiction of his doubtless expectation, the “true son of Abraham” turns out not to be himself but the poor beggar. Though he pretended not to notice Lazarus in life, now he can hardly notice anything else.

One significant theological point suggested in the parable is that not all “sons of Abraham” will have a blessed “life to come.” For some there will be no Sabbath rest (the Greek word for the rich man’s suffering is odynaomai, which implies not only pain but profound restlessness; it is at the root of Odysseus’s name and identity in Homer). This is the pained discomfort of one who is not, and in this case cannot be ever, “at home.”

For Lazarus, by contrast, now is the very first time, perhaps, that he has been at home; in his consciousness there is a profound sense of “comfort” (parakaleō), closure, and completion.


©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.