Luke 16:19-31 – The Rich Man and Lazarus


Luke 16:19-31


Jesus tells a parable about a very rich man and a very poor man whose circumstances are reversed after they die.


This parable sits in the context of Jesus criticizing the Pharisees, whom Luke accuses of being “lovers of money” (16:14). But the parable speaks not only about them; it extends to Luke’s readers, warning them about the blinding, dangerous capacities of wealth.

The rich man and Lazarus lead two totally opposite forms of existence. One is covered with opulent purple and fine linen; the other is covered in sores. One feasts daily; the other looks for scraps to curb his hunger. One lives inside a gated home; the other lies at the gate. One receives the dignity of a burial according to custom; the other is carried off to be with Abraham. They live close to one another, perhaps even visible to one another through the gate. After death, their conditions are totally reversed (recall Luke 1:52-53).

Jesus never explicitly states why the rich man receives his torment, but the story makes some clear suggestions. The man has disregarded people who suffer poverty, as exemplified in poor Lazarus who lived so nearby. This was done not out of ignorance but out of willful neglect. (It appears from v. 24, where the rich man knows Lazarus’s name, that they are not strangers to each other.) The man also is presumptuous, perhaps assuming that he deserves good things in life because of his wealth or status. His request to Abraham, to have Lazarus come and cool his tongue, is audacious, for it suggests that Lazarus should do his bidding, even now in the afterlife. The rich man, then, is an example of how wealth perverts values and breeds self-centeredness. The reign of God demands that we commit ourselves to different ways of living.