Act 1 – The Tableau
The first three verses contain a sharp contrast in description between Lazarus and the unnamed “lover of money.”
- The rich man is clothed in purple and fine linen where Lazarus is covered with sores or ulcers
- The rich man “dined sumptuously each day” while Lazarus longed to eat what fell from the table, but can’t.
- The rich man lives a privileged life while Lazarus ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, literally, “had been thrown before the gate” of the rich man’s house.
It is perhaps noteworthy that the first word in a Greek phrase is a position of stress, as is the last word in a phrase. Even the Lucan grammar seems to stress the contrast between the two men:
- The first word in v. 19 is anthropos = “a person” and the last word in the phrase is plousios = “rich”
- where the first word in v. 20 is ptochos = “poor,” the last word in the phrase is “Lazarus,” a name meaning “God helps”
Perhaps Luke is making the point that “the poor” were not considered “people;” as well the rich depend upon themselves whereas the poor depend on God.
The rich man is splendidly robed and feasts on the finest foods (see Note below re: v.19) – a clear echo of the parable of the Rich Fool who is well satisfied: “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” (12:19). As the parable makes clear the flash and pomp of the rich man’s life in no way reflects the eternal glory that awaits the faithful.
Lazarus is the only character ever named in a parable. As mentioned above, the name means “God helps” and thus foreshadows Lazarus’ liberation even as its ironically contrasts his life – no one in this life helps Lazarus. He has been cast away at the rich man’s gate. He is a cripple beggar covered with sores and in the end dies.
In our tableau the two characters live with a “stone’s throw” of each other and yet they never meet, never speak, nor are in any way neighbors. One is reminded of Jesus’ question to scribe (scholar of the law) in the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Which of these three [priest, Levite, Samaritan], in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?’ He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Our two main characters loved entirely separate lives, divided at table and divided by a gate.
Luke 16:19 rich man: The oldest Greek manuscript of Luke dating from ca. A.D. 175–225 records the name of the rich man as an abbreviated form of “Nineveh,” but there is very little textual support in other manuscripts for this reading. The rich man is popularly known as “Dives” which is the Latin Vulgate’s translation for “rich man.”
purple garments and fine linen: Cloth dyed purple was costly and made from thre extract of shellfish murex. So prized was murex purple dye for its commercial value that the Hebrew term ˒argāmān acquired the sense of “tribute” in both Ugaritic and Hittite. Hittite sources reveal that such payment was made in the form of purple garments for the king, queen, crown prince, and ministers of the court. Purple cloth would be used for the outer garment. The use of fine linen for the other garments indicates that the rich man enjoyed the ultimate in luxury. The phrase is reminiscent of Prov. 31:22, suggesting that he lived like a king
dined sumptuously each day: “Dining sumptuously” is not necessarily bad. The same word, euphraino, is used four times of the “celebration” the waiting father hosted for his prodigal son (15:23, 24, 29, 32). The emphasis in the phrase is its combination with “each day” and echoes Amos 6:4-7.
Luke 16:20 lying at his door: The Greek is ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, literally, “had been thrown before the gate.” The verb is passive, thus others (unnamed) dumped Lazarus at the rich man’s gate – perhaps other rich people who did want Lazarus at their gate? friends of Lazarus?
poor man: the use of word ptōchós (poor, destitute) in such close conjunction with ploúsios (wealthy, rich) gives us the suggestion that this parable is a narrative rendering of the first Beatitude and woe of Luke 6:20-24.
Lazarus: The name of Lazarus, an abbreviated transcription of El-azar (“God helps”), appears in the NT only in the gospel of John and this parable. It is the only proper name to appear in a NT parable attributed to Jesus.
Luke 16:21 would gladly have eaten his fill: epithymōn chortasthēnai (literally, desired/lusted to be filled). Luke poignantly describes the poor man’s condition with graphic, illustrative terms. The root verb chortazō is derived from chortos, a Greek word for “grass, green crops, hay.” Normally chortazō is used to describe animals eating. It is used of people in case instances: (a) to describe Jesus’ miraculous feeding (Matt 14:20; 15:37; Mark 6:42; similarly 8:8; Luke 9:17; John 6:26) and (b) figuratively of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6; cf. also Ps 17:15). Elsewhere the word brōsis (to eat, eat a meal) is used.
Dogs even used…lick his sores: This reference echoes OT passages in which dogs consume the dead (cf. 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:24; Ps. 22:15–16; Jer. 15:3)
- Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 249-53
- Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) pp. 966-7
- Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 269-71
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 598-610
- R. Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 314-20
- G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) pp. 345
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
- Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985). J. Jeremias, hádēs, Vol. I:146-49 F. Hauck, ebeblêto pros ton pulôna, Vol. I:526-29 R. Meyer, kólpos, Vol. III:824-26 F. Hauck, ptōchós, Vol. VI:885-87
- Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990-c1993) chortazō, Vol. 3:470
- David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996, c1992) Frederick W. Danker, ˒argāmān, Vol. 5:557
- Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989) chásma, Vol. 1:11.
Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC.