Explanation of Scripture read by Orthodox Christians on the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost - The parable of the Rich man and Lazarus

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The Parable begins "There was a certain rich man".(Luke 16:19) A certain rich man - he doesn't even have a name. But wouldn't that be the way it would be? The scripture says about such a man, who is rich only in things in the temporal world, but poor in virtue, "Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out." (Psalm 109:13) And the Lord says also, "a froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person." (Psalm 101:4) And then our Lord says, when He is speaking of the Judgment, "I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." (Luke 13:27-28) Isn't that what happened to the rich man? He saw Abraham and he knew he was thrust out, and he was a man with out a name anymore. He was a man that God knew not. "His remembrance shall perish from the earth, and he shall have no name in the street." (Job 18:17), so says the Prophet Job. God help us, that we would not be like that, that we would have a name when eternity dawns. This man had no name anymore.

"We must observe also, that among the heathen the names of poor men are more likely to be known than of rich. Now our Lord mentions the name of the poor, but not the name of the rich, because God knows and approves the humble, but not the proud." (St Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome)

"The Lord gave no name to the rich man in this parable because such a man is not worthy to be remembered by God by name. As the Lord says, through the prophet, 'nor will I make remembrance of their names through My lips." (Psalm 15:3) But the Lord mentions the poor man by name, for the names of the righteous are inscribed in the book of life" (Bl Theophylact, commentary on Luke)


The enduring value of this story is to teach us about mercy, and the value of suffering.

"The Lord, then, fashioned this story to teach those who show no mercy and give no alms what punishments await them, and to teach those who are suffering what good things they will enjoy on account of the sufferings they patiently endure in this life." (Bl Theophylact, commentary on Luke)

The Lord also wished to prophesy the Jews' rejection of Him, even "though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:31, the end of the parable)


No, they are characters in a parable, a fictional story, but the experiences depicted are true.


"Lazarus is interpreted, "one who was assisted." For he was poor, and the Lord helped him. (St John Chrysostom)

"This discourse concerning the rich man and Lazarus was written after the manner of a comparison in a parable, to declare that they who abound in earthly riches, unless they will relieve the necessities of the poor, shall meet with a heavy condemnation. But the tradition of the Jews relates that there was at that time in Jerusalem a certain Lazarus who was afflicted with extreme poverty and sickness, whom our Lord remembering, introduces him into the example for the sake of adding greater point to His words." (St Cyril of Jerusalem)


The rich man was guilty of wanton indulgence, vain words and gossip, vanity, and lack of mercy to the poor.

"But the insolence and pride of the wealthy is manifested afterwards by the clearest tokens, for it follows, and no one gave to him. For so unmindful are they of the condition of mankind, that as if placed above nature they derive from the wretchedness of the poor an incitement to their own pleasure, they laugh at the destitute, they mock the needy, and rob those whom they ought to pity." (St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan)

"Now if the wearing of fine and precious robes were not a fault, word of God would never have so carefully expressed this. For no one seeks costly garments except for vainglory, that he may seem more honorable than others; for no one wishes to be clothed with such, where he cannot be seen by others." ( St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome)

"And here we must narrowly watch ourselves, seeing that banquets can scarcely be celebrated blamelessly, for almost always luxury accompanies feasting; and when the body is swallowed up in the delight of refreshing itself, the heart relaxes to empty joys." ( St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome)

"But what means it, that when in torments he desires his tongue to be cooled, except that at his feasts having sinned in talking, now by the justice of retribution, his tongue was in fierce flame; for talkativeness is generally rife at the banquet. " ( St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome)


Our Holy Father Abraham, among his numerous virtues, was distinguished in the minds of the Jews for his hospitality. This is also associated with salvation.

"It may here be observed, that all who are offended by us are exposed to our view. But the rich man sees Lazarus not with any other righteous man, but in Abraham's bosom. For Abraham was full of love, but the man is convicted of cruelty. Abraham sitting before his door followed after those that passed by, and brought them into his house, the other turned away even them that abode within his gate." (St John Chrysostom)

To the world, the death of Lazarus, was a non-event. Someone had to grab him, because after all, he would start to smell, and throw him somewhere, into some potter's field. No one came to pray for him. No one cared. No one knew him. The rich man might have noticed after two or three weeks, "Oh the beggar is not there anymore. I don't have to step over him anymore. That's good". His death was of no consequence. It did not cause a ripple in the life of that time.

But he did NOT die alone, and his death was a matter of great rejoicing in the heavens, because the angels escorted him into Abraham's bosom. What does it say about those that die who are righteous, and the appearances, both in this world , and the REAL appearances in the next? Solomon says, "But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace. For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality. And having been a little chastised" ... Lazarus' wounds were a little bit of chastisement mind you. Don't look at the appearances, look at the truth! And "they shall be greatly rewarded: for God proved them, and found them worthy for himself. As gold in the furnace hath he tried them, and received them as a burnt offering. And in the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble." (Wisdom 3:1 - 7) So it is with the righteous when they die. The world sees a false picture, but we know the truth.

The rich man's death, although accompanied by great fanfare in the world, with paid mourners, and the playing of flutes, was an unimportant event in the heavens. He was merely buried. This burial, in the bowels of the earth, is meant here to signify that he descending into the lowest depths of Hell.

"He (the rich man, Ed.) died then indeed in body, but his soul was dead before. For he did none of the works of the soul. All that warmth which issues from the love of our neighbor had fled, and he was more dead than his body. But no one is spoken of as having ministered to the rich man's burial as to that of Lazarus. Because when he lived pleasantly in the broad road, he had many busy flatterers; when he came to his end, all forsook him. For it simply follows, and was buried in hell. But his soul also when living was buried, enshrined in its body as it were in a tomb." (St John Chrysostom)


We will have memory, and be able to recognize our great torment, and that others are blessed. We will see those we have wronged!

"And here we must remark what fearful sufferings are heaped upon the rich man in flames. For in addition to his punishment, his knowledge and memory are preserved. He knew Lazarus whom he despised, he remembered his brethren whom he left. For that sinners in punishment may be still more punished, they both see the glory of those whom they had despised, and are harassed about the punishment of those whom they have unprofitably loved." St Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome)


Those who feast and give themselves over to pleasure will invariably sin with idle talking, gossip, crude jokes, and the like.

The rich man's thirst, which is never quenched, points to the wretched state of the unrighteous in Hell, "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:48)

Christian! Note these things well! His memory is all preserved! He remembers his brothers. He remembers how they act. He knows Lazarus. He knows Abraham, and yet he had never met the man! He never met him at all, because he never cared about the things he said, did he? The senses in the next life are finer and stronger. We see and we understand more, we calculate more quickly in the next life, when we are unencumbered by the flesh. Indeed, even those in Hell have finer senses, so that they can more exquisitely feel their pain. Do you see how terrifying this is? All their passions are still preserved, but there is no fulfillment for their passions. His thirst for liquor will never be fulfilled, his thirst for women, for song, all of it will go unfulfilled and will GNAW at him, and hurt him, and cut him, for eternity! "Their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched", (Mark 9:48) it says in the scripture. Our passions are the worm! They will eat at us, unless we exorcise them now, so that we will be unencumbered by them. And in the next life, every knee shall bend , and all things shall be made known. Those in Hades, they will know, they will see Father Abraham, and this will make their pain even more real and more exquisite.

We should tremble when we think of these things!


All will receive some reward, even the evil. Let this not be only in this life for us.

"All this then is said to Him because he chose the happiness of the world, and loved no other life but that in which he proudly boasted; but he says, Lazarus received evil things, because he knew that the perishableness of this life, its labors, sorrows, and sickness, are the penalty of sin, for we all die in Adam who by transgression was made liable to death." (Blessed Augustine)

"He says, You received good things in your life, (as if your due;) as though he said, If you have done any good thing for which a reward might be due, you have received all things in that world, living luxuriously, abounding in riches, enjoying the pleasure of prosperous undertakings; but he if he committed any evil has received all, afflicted with poverty, hunger, and the depths of wretchedness. And each of you came hither naked; Lazarus indeed of sin, wherefore he receives his consolation; you of righteous wherefore you endure your inconsolable punishment; and hence it follows, But now he is comforted, and you are tormented. " (St John Chrysostom)

"Whatsoever then you have well in this world, when you recollect to have done any thing good, be very fearful about it, lest the prosperity granted you be your recompense for the same good. And when you behold poor men doing any thing blameably, fear not, seeing that perhaps those whom the remains of the slightest iniquity defiles, the fire of honesty cleanses. " (St Gregory the great, Pope of Rome)


"Whom does this rich man represent, this man so richly dressed, who enjoyed all those daily banquets? Is it not the Jewish people, who made a cult of exterior things, using the delights of the law which they had received, for vain motives, not for true profit? And whom does Lazarus signify, covered in wounds, if not the Gentile peoples? These, when converted to God, were not ashamed to confess their sins, that is to say, they had many wounds and open sores. As when some infection comes from within the body to ulcers of the skin, so showing itself exteriorly, so when we confess our sins, it is in a sense an outbreak of our sores. In confession we manifest in a very profitable way the virus of sin which had concealed its venom within the soul. Exterior wounds bring to the surface the festering sore beneath, and when we confess our sins, we uncover this hidden sore. But the unfortunate Lazarus wished only to eat of the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table, and no one would give him any, because those proud people disdained to admit the Gentiles to the knowledge of their law." (St Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome)

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