Jesus spends very little time talking about Lazarus, the hero of this parable. His patience, his suffering, and his blessed end are considered in passing. On the other hand, the nameless rich man’s life, death, and doom are described in detail. Perhaps the reason why Jesus spends so much time talking about the rich man is because so many people follow in the rich man’s footsteps.
Certainly dishonest sinners take the same road as the rich man and find their reward in hell. Yet virtuous men of the world and other noble souls also form the bulk of ungodly mankind who wander the broad way here and fills hell in the life of the world to come. Not only unbelievers should heed the rich man’s fate, but also even Christians should heed the warning in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The warning Jesus teaches today is the warning that the rich man would not heed, even in torment in Hades: Whoever despises the Word condemns himself.
Lazarus, on the one hand, lived up to his name: “God is his help and confidence”. He suffered much, yet his faith and confidence in God was the source of his patience in suffering. On the other hand, the rich man did not hear Moses and the prophets any more than his brothers. He remained in sin. Sin piled up day after day.
Those who despise the Word by either not hearing it or only hearing it without paying heed to it bury and harden themselves in sin. The rich man became corrupted in the service of sin. You also become corrupted in the service of sin when you pay no attention to Moses, to the prophets, and especially to Jesus Christ.
Moses and the prophets show how to love God. You are not able to love God the way the Law and the prophets demand. Saint Paul says in Romans chapter three: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
When you ignore Moses and the prophets or, worse yet, think there is another better way to achieve eternal life, you walk the same path as the rich man. Before you know it, you’re caught up in how you live and how you love.
You may not live how the rich man lives, but you do trust earthly things more than heavenly things. Your pleasure in things of this world when they become more important than eternal life and forgiveness of sins makes you no better than a blasphemer, sorcerer, and liar.
You may show more love to your neighbor than the rich man did to Lazarus. You may never close your heart to anyone in need. Whether you help everyone or let everyone fend for themselves, the minute you place the future of eternity in how you love your neighbor is the moment when you have made your deeds your false god.
Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not about poor people going to Abraham’s bosom when they die. Rich and poor people receive eternal life or eternal condemnation every day, regardless of how much money they have or don’t have. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is about confidence in God’s promise of eternal life for those who are confident that Jesus Christ has done all things necessary to gift them with forgiveness of sin and everlasting life.
You don’t hear much about Lazarus in the parable because Lazarus has the one thing necessary: Jesus Christ. His hope for a way out of his miserable existence is set on the God Who deals only with sinners; the last, lost, least, littlest, and better class of losers. Lazarus is not the example for you to give up all you have, become poor, let dogs lick your sores, and then you’ll live forever. You miss the point of the parable if you follow Lazarus that way. Lazarus has confidence that God’s promise of Messiah, Whose blood and righteousness covers all of Lazarus’ sins, is all he needs.
The rich man has every opportunity to hear the Good News that sin is forgiven and life is his in Christ Jesus. The rich man continues on his merry way, living the good life, and ignoring the beggar at his door. He may have everything he needs right now, but these earthly nostrums can’t be taken into the hereafter. Sitting in Hades in torment is too late for him and for his brothers. His brothers must hear Moses and the prophets. They must hear the Law that shows the sting of sin. They also must hear the Gospel, the happy news that God saves the worst of sinners in the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ.
Moses does what he does until Christ. So do the prophets. Both speak of the hope of the Savior Who hands Himself into the hands of sinners in order to die for sin and be raised for the sinner’s justification. All your hard work to find another way to eternity fails. There is only one successful route to eternal life: the way of Jesus Christ, Who walked the way of death to give you life. The way of Christ is the way of receiving; receiving every good and perfect gift from Him in water, Word, Body, and Blood. Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him.