St. Edmund Campion Parish, Maidenhead

26th Sunday, Year C (25 Sep 2016)

Parable of the rich man and Lazarus

A parable is a short symbolic (but not literal) story designed to teach some principle or lesson. It is a teaching method that involves a comparison. The parable uses situations, events and circumstances known to those being taught, like a bridge, to teach them a principle or convey a new meaning. In Jesus' case, he used it to convey, in the case of the rich person and Lazarus, as a correction. By their very nature they are NOT to be taken literally in every detail.

There is a generally accepted principle in the study of theology, that one should never build a doctrine based on a parable, since they were originally told to conceal a truth, but not in the details. Therefore it is not wise to use the Lazarus parable as a foundation to build a teaching that immediately after death some will go to a place of fiery torment, as happened to the rich man in this story. The fact is that this parable is the only place in the Bible where such an idea may be found.

Why did Jesus tell the story? Abraham's final statement is the main point of the story. It is a clear rebuke to the Jewish leaders. Let me paraphrase it. "If your brothers (Pharisees listening to the story) have refused to hear the Scripture testimony of Moses and the prophets, they will not listen, even if someone arises from the dead."

Jesus wanted them to see their danger in persistent unbelief.

This word about being arisen from the dead may be considered prophetic. In fact Jesus actually did later raise a dead man called Lazarus. We can imagine many people would have remembered the story Jesus had told about the rich man and Lazarus, and now among them was a man called Lazarus that had in fact come back from the dead! Lazarus of Bethany was a living testimony to many, that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord over both life and death. However, instead of repenting, the religious leaders actually wanted to kill Jesus and Lazarus. Their hearts remained unchanged, just as Abraham in the parable had said.

Jesus ultimately tells us what is the meaning of the rich man and Lazarus parable. He was telling the Pharisees that since they did not truly believe and follow what Moses and the prophets wrote, no amount of miracles and wonders would be able to change their minds and alter how they lived life.

So for us. Often we are waiting for something to happen before we make the flip and start to believe in a radical, affective way. We will appreciate the big miracles happening in the Church (so much charity, hospitals, schools, universities, so many people living dedicated to God, saints) only if we start trusting our mum, then the school teacher and so one.

Do you trust someone now? Whom do you follow? The way is simple. Start with small signs, follow His prophets, believe that God sends some people to you. If they impress you, they are the first step to change your life. Trust them. Then, if you let yourself be persuaded by them, other signs will work too. But if you don't believe them even strong signs won't be perceived by you and they won't move you to a real change in your life. You will see rather the issues. So, where do you want to start?