The rich man and Lazarus: Why did Jesus tell this story?

I reflect on Jesus’ well known story of the fate, after death, of a rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, in my January 23, 2011 sermon—the eleventh in my series on Luke’s Gospel.

Why did Jesus tell this story? I suggest that his purpose has to do with exhorting his listeners to generosity. He heightens the tensions between himself and the religious leaders by likening them to the calloused rich man who finds himself after death across an unbridgeable chasm from “father Abraham.”

However, when we read this story together with the Prodigal Son story, located just one chapter earlier in Luke, we will see that Jesus seriously presents those who would identify with the rich man and his brothers with a way to healing. Simply return to the message of Moses and the prophets.

What is that message? Love God and neighbor. Jesus illustrates his words from the Sermon on the Plain in chapter six where he warns of coming woes to those who are rich now—in contrast to the blessings promised the poor. However, his overall intent is to exhort to generosity with the hope that healing is possible—not to assert people are locked into condemnation.

The sermon may be found here: it’s called “Listen to Moses.” The other sermons in the series may be found here.

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