To the Pharisees, “who were covetous” (Luke 16:14), Jesus described what happened after death to the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). In earthly life, the rich man had refused to help Lazarus, a beggar full of sores who was laid at his gate. The dogs did more than the rich man to help Lazarus, at least they licked his sores (Luke 16:21). Lazarus was not an able-bodied man trying to sponge off others; he could not work, but had to be carried to the rich man’s gate. He simply desired to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:21). Wealth is not inherently evil, nor is poverty inherently good; however, a self-absorbed life sets a course for the soul that leads to eternal ruin. In this part the book of Luke, Jesus has been speaking on neglect. In Luke 14:16-23, Jesus highlighted the neglect of responding to the invitation. Here he speaks of neglecting a man clearly in need whom the rich man could easily have helped.
After death the situations of these two are reversed, as Abraham, a great Old-Testament saint in paradise, explained to the rich man, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented” (Luke 16:25). This was a reply to the rich man’s request for Lazarus to be sent with water to cool his tongue (Luke 16:24). It seems that even in torment the rich man’s self-centeredness remains. He wants Lazarus to be his servant, to fetch water for him.
The rich man had made Mammon (wealth) his god (Luke 16:13). Unlike Lazarus, the rich man is never given a personal name in this account. Perhaps this hints at the fact that he had established his identity on his wealth. When he left all his wealth behind at death, he lost his sense of self as well. We ought to take heed that we base our identity on God, Who never changes, but will live with the saved eternally after this short life on earth is finished.
Even the rich man’s request on behalf of his brothers turns out to be self-centered. He still wants Lazarus to be his servant, sent to warn his brothers (Luke 16:27-28). His plea also smacks of self-justification by suggesting that he, along with his five brothers, did not have ample opportunity to know what should be done to avoid torment. Abraham responds with, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). The rich man is quick to dismiss this with, “Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30). To dismiss the Law and the Prophets—the Scriptures that had been written at this time—is also to dismiss the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the Law and Prophets pointed to Christ (Luke 24:27, 44). The rich man demands something more than the clear warnings of the Bible. He wants an unavoidable sign such as someone speaking from the dead. Jesus, the one who rose from the dead, told us to go to what is written in God’s word to have eternal life (Luke 10:25-26; John 5:39).
There are many today who follow the rich man’s steps. Sadly, their blame-shifting blindness to their own spiritual need will lead to the same eternal destiny if they do not wake up and repent. Their self-absorption will lead them to choose torment, to be free from God who calls them to repent and think about someone other than themselves.