“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly eaten his fill of scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.”
That’s how today’s parable begins. In Jesus day it was common for wealthy families to enjoy open air dining. Sometimes, their dining area, though elevated, was visible from the street. That’s the picture we’ve given as the setting for this parable.
The wealthy man loved to entertain. He loved to wear the highest quality, and most stylish clothes. Most likely, his guests did, too. He loved food, too, and was lavish in what he served. Dinner was always party time. These banquets were formal events, so people reclined on lounges around a central low-standing table. There was no silverware. People used thin slices of bread to scoop the food from the common dishes. Occasionally, food would fall to the floor only to the snatched up by the house lap dogs that had free reign of the residence.
Lazarus, a sick beggar, would lie on the side of the road watching the revelers. Not only was he suffering from the open sores on his body, he suffered the all-consuming pain of malnutrition.
Jesus then took this scene and replayed it in a spiritual plane. The scene was quite different. It
became a reverse reality revealing the inner life of each person. The rich man was suffering “torment.” In the gospels it’s often described by the phrase “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” He had imprisoned himself in an empty isolated world experiencing the horrible, incurable, suffering of regret, of missed opportunity, of failure, of soul loss. The rich man was trapped within himself. Part of his suffering was that he saw another world far off, and saw Lazarus there. Lazarus who had ascended was seated beside Abraham, the greatest of the patriarchs. The wretched, suffering man he never noticed was in glory.
Even the dogs in the rich man house reached out to Lazarus. They comforted him by licking his sores. The rich man never saw Lazarus lying along the road. The rich man never saw the sores, never saw the outlines of Lazarus’ ribs. His wealth wasn’t his problem. Loving food wasn’t his problem. Partying wasn’t his problem. He was self-absorbed. He never developed the freedom of spirit to care for others. Little by little his soul starved to death.
The moral of this parable is simple, and disturbing. If we don’t see, if we don’t feel, if we don’t care, we’ll starve to death. That’s soul loss. This spiritual principle doesn’t only apply to an individual. It’s social and communal as well. If a nation refuses to see, refuses to care, refuses to feel, it too will die. It will lose its soul.
As the gospels say, “Let the one who has ears to hear, hear.”