One Whom God Helps
It’s been used to rebuke the rich, defend salvation by poverty, teach about the afterlife, condemn antebellum slavery, and even promote women’s suffrage. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus certainly raises a series of questions. Can heaven be seen from hell? Does wealth make the difference between the two? Are those in heaven aware of (and indifferent to) the suffering of those in hell? Is this a parable or a true story? Those are all good questions which deserve to be addressed, but not at the expense of the biggest question. What was the message Jesus wanted his listeners to hear? The real purpose of the parable is to show how important sharing the gospel really is. We often miss this message when we read this parable because we are so fascinated with the description of what life after death is like.
Jesus is speaking to the same cluster of people to whom he was telling the Parable of the Prodigal Son—the Pharisees. The Lord used the Parable of the Prodigal Son to respond to the question of why he eats with tax collectors and sinners. A man of God would not do that. At least that’s what they thought. But Jesus wanted the Pharisees to see themselves objectively, so he told them this parable to awaken them to the reality that they did not care about the lost.
In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus is communicating the same message to the Pharisees, but from a different angle. Lazarus, because of the intensity of his predicament, was willing to eat food that came out of the garbage can. That’s because the wealthy person of the parable would not help him AT ALL. The rich man in the parable is so callused regarding the human condition that he won't even let the beggar eat his trash! “You do not care about anyone’s soul but your own,” Jesus is saying. “You have a vast treasure of knowledge of the Scriptures, but you won’t share that spiritual food with anyone. Instead you chose to critique the Word and argue about it—all the while the world was lost around you, dying for the crumbs.”
The rich man and Lazarus both die. The rich man is in agony, and Lazarus is in Paradise. The rich man begs father Abraham to send Lazarus to bring just a little relief from his torment. Abraham issues a kindly worded, but firmly stated denial of the rich man’s request. Then all of a sudden, the rich man seems to care about his five brothers. To Abraham he says, “Send Lazarus to warn them.” Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them hear them.” “No, father Abraham, the rich man counters, “But if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” To which Abraham emphatically says, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
No miracle, no matter how sensational, will convince someone to repent—even if someone were to come back from the dead. Only the Word of God has the power to convince someone to repent. If we are not convinced by God’s Word to repent, there’s nothing left God can do. The Pharisees prided themselves on their righteousness through strict obedience to their interpretation of God's law. They also despised others, especially tax collectors and sinners. And, as we see in this parable, you can add the poor to the list of those whom the Pharisees despised. The irony here is that those who truly believed they served and represented God would not help someone "whom God helps." The name Lazarus means, “One whom God helps.” If we are not convinced by God’s Word to repent, there’s nothing left God can do. But if we listen to the Word of God and respond to it, we become someone whom God helps.