In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus continues his emphasis on this-worldly hospitality’s intimate connection with next-worldly rewards or retribution. I will probably write more on my thoughts on this in the next few days, but as a preliminary discussion, there was something really interesting I observed in the text that I’d like your thoughts on.
The Rich Man and Lazarus have died and gone into the afterlife – Hades, the realm of the dead. But in Hades there seems to be a compartment where the righteous are collected to Abraham’s side, living in comfort. But the wicked are away from Abraham’s side (across a great chasm) in a place of torment.
On the far side of the chasm, the Rich Man looks up and sees Abraham and Lazarus with him. In his torment, he commands (!) Abraham, “Father Abraham, be merciful to me and send Lazarus to get me some water.”
The command to have Abraham “send” Lazarus was initially just interesting to me. I could have read implications into it, but didn’t…at first.
But then I noticed it again in vs. 27, “Send* Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers.”
That twice the Rich Man tries to get Abraham to “send” Lazarus peeked my interest.
It seems to me, not only is the Rich Man incredibly presumptuous, even in eternal torment, to assume he can command Abraham to do anything. But even more presumptuous, he still assumes Lazarus is beneath him. He is treating Lazarus like a servant, a slave, a messenger boy, someone to do his bidding…someone who only exists for my needs.
Even Abraham he treats as a lesser person. Though he calls him ‘Father,’ he assumes he can command Abraham to obey his imperatives. He even argues with Abraham and tells Abraham that he knows better about what his brothers will or won’t listen to, when it comes to revelation to his five brothers.
Even in his torment, this guy still clings to his supposed superior identity and superior status. And even Hades doesn’t change his attitude. Though he thinks Lazarus is a slave, it turns out he is a slave to himself.
Be careful how you treat people – especially people “beneath” you, people everyone else considers expendable, people everyone else overlooks, people everyone else wants to distance themselves from. The tables may very well be reversed someday.
So you tell me: Tell me about a person you know, who, despite their high status, has done a good job at reaching out toward those people who are “beneath” them? I’d love to have a few models for this.
*This second time, the Greek verb is a subjunctive, not an imperative, but that’s a little aside from my point here.