Wise King Solomon once said, My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. The rich man had everything he wanted, yet he lacked one thing: hearing.
The rich man lacks something else: a name. Jesus doesn’t give him a name because his name is meaningless. The excess of abundance he had might have meant something to him while he was alive, but now that he is in torment in Hades, they mean nothing. All he has is an eternity of anguish in the flame of hell.
Lazarus has a name. That’s about all he has. He desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs came to lick Lazarus’s sores. The rich man perhaps had fine ointment that could have been used to ease the pain and heal the sores. But there was never an offer from the rich man. Lazarus had to be content with dog spit and the company of man’s best friend.
Lazarus has a name. He also has a place in Abraham’s bosom. Abraham has a name, too. First it was Abram, “the father is exalted”. Later God changed it to Abraham, “father of many nations”. God led Abram outside and said, Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…. So shall your offspring be. In that many nations is one Lazarus, who received nothing but bad things in his life. Now Lazarus has comfort. He is reckoned as one of the stars in the sky that Abram saw.
The ones hearing the parable, the Pharisees, were lovers of money. They heard all these things, and they ridiculed [Jesus]. One of these things they heard we will hear, Lord willing, in a couple of months: the parable of the shrewd steward. Jesus tells the Pharisees, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. This is exactly what the rich man did not do. He could have used his abundant wealth to help Lazarus. He kept it to himself. He even ate better than any man could ever eat. He had more than what he needed, and he kept it to himself. He even passed by Lazarus every day at his gates, yet did nothing to help him.
The rich man has no name because had another god. The god of mammon was his identity. This doesn’t mean that being rich is a sin. What it means is what you do with your riches that shows who, or what, is your god. Martin Luther explains it this way in the Large Catechism: whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor also has a god. But it is not the true and only God. This truth reappears when you notice how arrogant, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent when the possessions no longer exist or are withdrawn. Therefore, I repeat that the chief explanation of this point is to “have a god” is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts.
The rich man’s heart trusted in a god that cannot save. Lazarus’s heart trusted in the God who saves. Lazarus trusted in the God who promised Abraham that a Savior would come from his family. He also promised Abraham that his house would not remain childless. Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Another way to say counted it is to say he reckoned it to him as righteousness. The Father thinks a different way about Abraham not because of anything Abraham does, but because Abraham believed that God would do what He said He would do.
God’s promises go against everything we observe. You can be dirt poor with no money or possessions to your name and you will be spared everlasting death. You can be rich with an excess of abundance, and you also will be spared everlasting death. You can be poor or rich, and yet receive everlasting death. The difference is the name, not your name, but the Name of God put into you in through hearing and believing the Word made flesh that rescues you from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Lazarus had the Name of God put into him. He had nothing else, yet he lives. The rich man could have been a name collector, knowing all sorts of people. He had everything except the Name of God. He dies and is in eternal torment. You can’t buy yourself out of hell. You can’t send someone back from the dead to warn unbelieving family and friends about hell. Father Abraham even says If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.
The most important possession you have is the resurrected Christ, triumphant over death and hell for you. Without this possession, you have nothing, even though you think you have everything. When the Name of the Triune God is on you in your baptism, you have the richest possession in the universe. Consider these words from King Louis the Ninth of France: “I think more of the place where I was baptized than of Rheims Cathedral where I was crowned. It is a greater thing to be a child of God than to be the ruler of a Kingdom. This last I shall lose at death but the other will be my passport to an everlasting glory.”
You have a name. You also have the Name above all names put in you through the preached Word, poured over you in your baptism, and put in your mouth in the Lord’s Supper. What that Name means, Jesus, “the Lord saves”, is your possession. Believe it, and you have it. Turn to it in every time of trouble, and you will receive a fair hearing. Trust it, and you have a good conscience, for every sin is forgiven in that Name. The words of that Name are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.