Title: Parables Bible Study 14: The Rich Man and Lazarus
Subject: Righteousness and the Kingdom of Heaven
Age: 13+ years
Location: Luke 16:19-21
Handout for note taking: Bible Study Worksheet
Begin the bible study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection. Share the following notes on the parable.
In reading and discussing the passage of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we must have in mind the context of the discussion that precedes it in Luke chapter 16, in particular the verses 9 through 13. After these verses comes a set of verses that also seem to have a bearing upon the parable, namely the attitude towards wealth that the Pharisees displayed. First, they saw wealth as a sign of God's blessings and favor (see 16.15b), whereas poverty was understood by them to be a sign of disfavor. What is also important to consider is their disdain and disbelief for the "new" teaching of Christ.
What's in a name? In verses 19-21 we learn the poor or righteous are known to God by name. God knows the poor and the outcasts. The rich, or workers of sin and iniquity, are not known. From Matthew 7.23, "And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness." And from Psalm 16.4, "Neither will I make mention of their name."
What is in a name? The Lord must know our name. John 10.3 says, "To him the doorkeeper open, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."
The Rich man's sin was not simply or solely his wealth, his rich apparel or even that he dined well. His sin was that he gave to poor Lazarus nothing, neither he nor his servants, even though he may have seen him daily. "His sin was his failure to have mercy on the beggar and to use his wealth for anyone but himself. Thus, the ‘mammon of unrighteousness' remained untransformed, and of it he made no ‘friends.'"
Lazarus was a righteous man whose life was pleasing to God, see verse 22. He suffered, starved, and was diseased. In his condition, he laid at the rich man's gate. This suggests that he didn't want to be there nor was he in control of his condition. We must at the same time keep in mind that poverty itself is not righteousness but patience, endurance, and acceptance of God's will are signs of true righteousness.
There was a big, but missed opportunity for the rich man. Divine providence in a sense placed Lazarus at the Rich Man's gate to provide him with the opportunity to put his riches to work, to in a sense, transform his unrighteous mammon into righteousness. Imagine that Lazarus was so close to relief at the Rich Man's gate, yet he does not complain and the Rich Man does not help.
In verses 22 through 26, we hear how the Rich Man desires relief and he calls to Abraham and to Lazarus who is in his lap. In other words, the Rich Man knew who Lazarus was. By calling for Lazarus to help the text may be indicating the goodness of Lazarus, his righteousness. That is to say, the Rich Man knew Lazarus was a good man and inclined to help and so he calls upon him.
The Rich Man's appeal tells us that death seals our fate. Perhaps the Rich Man could have ended up elsewhere if his wealth had been used to help and serve the poor. The idea comes out that if he had made a friend by using his unrighteous mammon, a friend of Lazarus or the poor in general, than they could have interceded on his behalf at the time of his death.
In verses 27-31, some see a link between the five brothers and the historical figures of the Jews and Heretics (those who have miss-represented Christ and the teachings and traditions of the Church). Both of these two groups have rejected the Divinity of Christ as well as the reality of His Resurrection, even though for both groups these two realities are supported and witnessed by Moses and the Prophets. A link that connects the rejection of the Divinity of Christ and the Resurrection is wealth and extravagant living.
The final pronouncement by Abraham was that although Moses and the Prophets are the inheritance of the Jews, they do not see how these scriptures witness to Christ. Furthermore, the scriptures are reduced to an external religion and lifestyle. Worse still, mercy and justice are forgotten. A final prophecy of this parable is that even Christ's Resurrection from the dead is not enough to convince or persuade one to see Christ for Who He truly is.
At this time, read the passages once more and allow time for quiet reflection. If there is time, you may have a discussion about these parables.
End the bible study with a prayer.
 The Parables, Archbishop Dimitry, p. 93, SVS Press
Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas
Click the link to return to the Parables Bible Study page or continue to the next Parables Bible Study session: The Sheep and the Goats.