Focal Passage: Luke 16:19-31
Today’s passage highlights the parable of the rich man and the beggar.
Their lives intersect at the gate of the rich man’s home. Surprisingly, the rich man remains anonymous while the beggar’s name is revealed as Lazarus (Greek form of the Hebrew name Eleazar, meaning “he whom God has helped).
The parable easily divides into two sections (vv. 19-23; 24-31).
The narrative section includes 19-23, less than 40 percent of the parable. The contrast between the unnamed rich man’s extravagant lifestyle and the helplessness of Lazarus who lives in extreme poverty is revealed in 19-21.
Lazarus’ life is one of hunger, disease and uncleanness (the licking of dogs make him ritually unclean; Cf. Robert H. Stein, Luke, 423).
As is often the case throughout history, the poor man dies first.
Eventually the rich man dies — details of his elaborate funeral procedures are completely ignored, more important than funeral arrangements is one’s eternal destiny — and he finds himself in Hades being tormented, separately from the expected Jewish blessings of Abraham.
The second section is found in 24-31 and makes up more than 60 percent of the parable.
The dialogue between Abraham and the rich man is the heart of the parable.
The rich man recognizing Lazarus asks twice that he be sent as an errand boy on his behalf, once to bring him water, and again to carry a warning to his brothers. Abraham refuses the requests and affirms the Jewish obligation to hear “Moses and the prophets.”
The parable calls for engagement in the life of the needy. Indifference is rejected and the call to love thy neighbor as thyself is affirmed.
Guidelines place a person in poverty if one is earning less than $10,991 (four-person family $22,025).
The Census Bureau’s annual report on poverty released Sept. 10, 2009, reveals the largest number of Americans in poverty since 1960, 39.8 million or 13.2 percent of Americans, including 14 million children. 5.5 percent of “married-couple families” have income below the poverty level, while 28.7 percent if “female-householder-with-no-husband-present families” live below the poverty line (www.census.gov).
African-Americans have a poverty rate of 24.7 percent, Hispanics 23.2 percent and Asians 11.8 percent. Non-Hispanic Whites have a poverty rate at 8.6 percent; 3.7 million of those 65 years and older live in poverty.
The United Nations defines poverty as someone who lives on less than four dollars a day, extreme poverty as less than $ 1.25 per day. 1.4 billion or 21 percent of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty throughout the world (www.un.org/millenniumgoals).
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).