Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 16.19-31
Proper 21 - Year C

Other texts:


Following the parable of the son who wasted his wealth at the end of chapter 15, chapter 16 addresses the faithful use of wealth in service to God. As I noted last week, both v. 1 and v. 19 begin with, "There was a certain rich man ...." Jesus is addressing the disciples in the first part of this chapter; but at v. 14, it is the Pharisees, who are described as lovers of money, who sneer or mock Jesus. The literally meaning of the Greek word is "to turn up the nose against."

Green (The Gospel of Luke) notes about the description of Pharisees as "lovers of money":

As this junction, Luke has departed from what we know of the historical Pharisees, providing his own polemical evaluation of them in a narrative aside. [footnote: Historically, the Pharisees constituted a lay movement not known for the wealth of its constituents. The difficulty of attributing this epigraph to the Pharisees was highlighted in Manson, Sayings, 295-96. See the summary comments in Moxnes, Economy of the Kingdom, 1-5] This is not to say that Luke has made an "error" in category, but that Luke means by "lovers of money" less, and more, than might appear on the surface. As will become clear, the Lukan characterization of the Pharisees as "lovers of money" ties this narrative subsection thematically back into earlier material concerned with Pharisaic habits regarding wealth and hospitality (esp. 14:1-24; 15). [p. 599]

Jesus describes these people as an "abomination" (bdelygma) before God (v. 15). Johnson (Luke, Sacra Pagina) writes about this word:

Its first and most obvious reference is to "idolatry" in the biblical tradition. But the term is also used in two other important connections in Torah, once in condemning financial misdealing (Dt 25:16), and once in condemning a divorced man cohabiting again with his former wife (Dt 24:4). Idolatry, money, and divorce are joined by the term bdelygma. [p. 255]

Jesus has already suggested that serving mammon/wealth is idolatry (v. 13). He will talk about divorce in v. 18. Our text returns to the theme of wealth -- how not to use it. Nickle (Preaching Luke's Gospel) comments: "Wealth ... is not the proper object of your devotion but is a convincing medium with which you may demonstrate and live out 'what it is to which,' or, better, 'who it is to whom,' your devotion is truly offered" [p. 166].


A possible structure of the lesson:

A. parable, part 1 -- narration (19-23)

B. parable, part 2 -- conversation (24-26)

C. addition to the parable (27-31)

(Whether or not these final verses were part of the original parable is debatable, some comments on this will follow.)

NARRATION (vv. 19-23)

"There was a certain rich man" is a phrase that begins both this parable and the one from last week (see 16:1). The thought strikes me that in both parables, the "heroes" are the unlikely ones: the dishonest steward and the poor, starving, sick Lazarus. My guess is that the hearers would consider both of these men as being outside of God's grace. One was unjust -- and continued to be unjust. The other, by his impoverished situation in life, indicates that God had not blessed him.

Tannehill (Luke): "The dominant concern of Luke 16 reappears in this section, which returns to the issue of the responsibility of wealthy people for the poor." [p.251]

In the narration, the contrast between the two characters is emphasized by a number of stated or assumed contrasts.

The first word in a Greek sentence is a position of stress, as is the last word in a phrase.

The first word in v. 19 is anthropos = "a person"
The first word in v. 20 is ptochos = "poor"

Perhaps "the poor" were not considered "people".

The last word in the phrase is plousios = "rich"
The last word in the phrase is "Lazarus" = a name meaning "God helps"

The rich are able to help themselves = the poor are not.

Does this imply that God does not help the rich -- or to reverse a popular phrase, "God does not help those who can help themselves"?

Some (exaggerated?) contrasts

The rich man is clothed in purple and fine linen
Lazarus is covered with sores or ulcers

The rich man "splendidly celebrates every day" (my trans.)
Lazarus desires to eat what falls from the table, (but can't).

The word for "eat" (chortazo) is a crude form of eating, frequently used of animals, especially cattle. It is related to chortos = "grass, hay." In addition, Culpepper (Luke, NIB) notes: "At a feast, bread was used to wipe the grease from one's hands and then was thrown under the table (cf. Mk 7:28)" [p. 316]. It is likely that the dogs ate the scraps that fell under the table.

NOTE: For those, like myself, who like to "feast". "Feasting" is not necessarily bad. The same word, euphraino, is used four times of the "celebration" the waiting father hosted for his found son (15:23, 24, 29, 32) -- but "every day"? That may seem a bit excessive.

We can assume that the rich man reclined at the table to eat -- the normal festive posture.

Lazarus, literally, "had been thrown before the gate."

The passive of the verb would imply that he didn't get there by his own power. He was tossed there by others. He doesn't even have the strength to shoo away the dogs who lick his sores. Another possible irony of this, is that the dogs are more aware of his sores than the rich man.

Johnson (Luke) notes that "things associated with dogs were unclean, so this is another sign of the man's outcast condition (see Exodus 23:31; 1 Kgs 21:19, 24; LXX Ps 21:16; Matt 15:26-27; Mark 7:27-28)" [p. 252].

Green (The Gospel of Luke) comments about names:

... the fact that this poor, crippled man has a name at all is highly significant. The poor man's only claim to status is that he is named in the story; this alone raises the hope that there is more to his story than that of being subhuman. The wealthy man, on the other hand, has no name; perhaps this is Jesus' way of inviting his money-loving listeners to provide their own! [p. 606]

After their deaths there continue to be contrasts:

Lazarus is "carried away by the angels"
The rich man is buried.

Lazarus is brought to "the bosom of Abraham"
The rich man is in Hades.

Being at the "bosom of" is used in John to indicate the close relationship between Jesus and the Father (1:18 -- NRSV uses "heart") and between Jesus and the beloved disciple (13:23) where it also denotes an honored position at a banquet. I think that this phrase not only denotes a contrast in places (bosom vs. Hades), but also in fates, e.g., honored, hugged (perhaps) vs. the "torment/torture" of the rich man.

"Hades" is a word that comes from Greek mythology that originally referred to the god of the lower world (in Roman mythology: "Pluto"). Later, it came to refer to the place of the dead (like she'ol in Hebrew). However, Luke's use of the word is in contrast to "heaven" (10:15) and to "Abraham's bosom" (16:23), suggesting that it is a place where only some of the dead may go -- or a particular part of she'ol which is divided by the deep chasm.

A CONVERSATION (vv. 24-26)

"Father Abraham," the rich may prays. He considers himself a child of Abraham -- and Abraham agrees when he calls him "child" (teknon v. 25).

However, in 3:8, John had preached, "Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor' (literally, "father"); for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children (teknon) to Abraham."

Here we have a person who claims to have Abraham as his father, but that isn't enough. He did not bear fruits worthy of repentance (3:8). Later there will be another wealthy person whom Jesus declares is a "son of Abraham" (19:9), but Zacchaeus underwent a conversion and gave away his wealth to help the poor. He bore fruits worthy of repentance.

As Culpepper notes: "Being a child of Abraham, therefore, is no guarantee that one will dwell with Abraham in paradise" [p. 317]

"The irony of the story is that he now requests 'mercy' (eleos) who did not show mercy in almsgiving (eleemosyne) to the poor man" [Johnson, Luke, p. 252].

There are contrasting fates for both men in this section.

The rich man had received good during his life, now torment.
Lazarus had received evil during his life, now is comforted.

The rich man had eaten his fill of good things during his life,
now he can't even get the water that would drip off a finger.

While we often try to create equality among people, in this text, and throughout Luke, there is a sense that God creates a reversal of fortunes. Should this produce fear in those who are wealthy now? for the wealthiest country on earth?

The basic instructions to the rich man from Abraham is "remember." The same word is used by the thief on the cross to Jesus, "Remember me, when you come into your kingdom" (23:42). It is used by the "men" at the tomb telling the women to remember Jesus' words (24:6 & 8).

The rich had not remembered Lazarus during their life times. He had not remembered the words of the Moses and the prophets.

The great chasm between the rich man and Lazarus existed long before their deaths. It would seem that during their lives, the rich man couldn't bridge the "chasm" between his house (and his wealth) and the poor man outside his gate. He couldn't reach across it to give starving Lazarus a bite to eat or medicine for his sores or shelter from the weather.

Related to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" The word for "neighbor" (in English as well as Greek and Hebrew) implies being in close proximity to someone. It would seem that this rich man, like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan parable (10:29-37), would not come near the unclean outcast. The distance between himself and Lazarus that he wanted during his life-time, he wants reversed in the after-life. He wants Lazarus to come close to him.

If the parable original stopped at this point, I think that the message for us is to properly use our wealth during our lifetimes. Saving it for a "rainy day" or spending it for our own pleasures is not the proper use of this gift God has given us. "Mammon" becomes our unjust god, rather than to gift that we are to use wisely.

ADDITIONS? (vv. 27-31)

There is a debate about where the parable ends. One suggestion is that it ends at verse 26 with the proclamation about the great chasm between the two.

Concerning the ending, Bernard Brandon Scott in Hear Then the Parable concludes: "The evidence appears compelling that the present conclusion to the parable was appended to relate the parable to Jewish disbelief in Jesus' messiahship." To reach this conclusion, Scott quotes findings from Crossan (In Parables) where he suggests that there is a clear parallel between the parable's conclusion and the resurrection account in Luke 24 [p. 143].

  1. There is the recurring theme of disbelief (16:31 and 24:12, 25, & 41).

  2. The use of Moses and the prophets (16:29, 31 and 24:27, 44).

  3. The use of raising (anistemi) from the dead (16:31 and 24:46). Only in these two places in Luke is this verb connected with "from the dead."

  4. The ending's emphasis on repentance is a theme more prevalent in Luke than the other gospels. The verb (metanoeo) occurs 5 times in Mt, 2 times in Mk, and 9 times in Lk. The noun (metanoia) occurs 2 times in Mt, 1 time in Mk, and 5 times in Lk. There are indications of Lukan "repentant" additions to some Markan texts (Lk 11:32; 13:3, 5) and with Matthew: (15:7, 10; 17:3-4). "Repentance" is stressed in the final speech in Luke (24:44-47), which also includes two of the parallels listed above: "Moses and the prophets" and "rising from the dead".

There are also some word connections with Paul's speeches in Acts. Most notably is Acts 28:23 where diamartyromai = to bear witness (16:28), peitho = to convince (16:31), and a reference to "Moses and the prophets" (16:29) are used. (The first two words are also used in a speech Acts 18:4-5.) One of the results of these speeches is disbelief by the Jews. They will not be convinced by scriptures about the resurrection of Jesus.

Thus, concludes Scott, this ending was written or reworked by Luke to fit some of his favorite themes and the problem of Jewish unbelief.

This ending puts us and all other hearers of the parable in the position of the brothers. It is they and us who have the opportunity, prior to dying, to hear Moses and the prophets and repent. We also have the advantage that someone has been raised from the dead, but this ending indicates -- correctly, I think -- that the resurrection by itself does not lead to repentance and belief; but remembering the word -- not only from Moses and the prophets, but also from Jesus.

This might lead worship planners to have prayers of confession and declaration of forgiveness after the reading of scriptures and sermon; rather than as a preface to the Gathering Rite.


"The Poor Have Names" was a sermon title I used on this text. This is the only parable where a character is given a name -- and it is the poor man who is named. ("Dives" -- a name sometimes associated with the rich man -- comes from the ancient Latin translation. "Dives" is the Latin adjective for "rich" -- not the man's name.)

Whenever we generalize people -- the poor, the rich, the elderly, teenagers, the clergy, the laity, etc., we dehumanize them. I was visiting a large church when I heard one of the members state that he didn't like women pastors. This surprised me. I asked him, "What about Sally?" Sally was one of the three clergy at the church. "Oh, Sally, . . . she's different!" was the reply. This female clergy had a name -- and with that, a relationship with this member. That, I think, was the difference.

We may be tempted to generalize the rich -- since so few of us belong to that category. The rich man is not named, but he is also not condemned for being rich, but for his indifference and uncaring attitude towards poor Lazarus right outside his door. Remember that Abraham was wealthy, and he isn't in the place of torment.

Culpepper quotes from George Buttrich (The Parables of Jesus):

The story offers no support to the glib assumption that Dives would have fulfilled all duty had he dressed Lazarus' sores and fed his hunger. True charity is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not spasmodic or superficial. Ameliorations such as food and medicine are necessary, but there is a more fundamental neighborliness.

Then Culpepper adds: "'Fundamental neighborliness,' therefore, is the barometer of the soul, an indication of the attitude of one's heart that is prized in the sight of God" [p. 320].

I add: One doesn't have to have be rich in order to be neighborly.

This parable may be an attack against the popular belief that wealth was an indication of being blessed by God -- of being obedient to God. And that poverty was an indication of punishment from God. Apparently some took this belief a step further and concluded that they had better not interfere with God's punishment of such evil people -- even though the Hebrew Scriptures are clear about helping the needy. The same or similar attitude can be found in some opposition to AIDS care and research or support for planned parenthood. "They made their own bed, let them lay in it," is a motto for some. Some will go even further and consider the disease or unwanted pregnancies as God's punishment for the individual's sin. As I said earlier, I think this parable is an attack against such attitudes -- whether in the first century or twentieth.

The name "Lazarus" may be significant. It means "Helped by God". In the parable, he is a man who can do nothing for himself. He can't even keep the (probably wild) dogs from licking his sores. He is dependent upon the angels for transportation to Abraham's side. In contrast, the rich man was able to take care of himself -- to provide himself with the finest things. However, one doesn't have to be rich to be greedy and selfish and uncaring. We also don't want to conclude that the way to heaven is to be financially poor. The way to heaven for the rich and the poor is to be "helped by God" -- or, to use images from the ending of the parable, to hear the word and to repent.

We often talk about ministering to the poor and needy, but what about the rich and needy? The following are snippets (slightly revised) from a sermon I preached on this text titled: "Freed from Greed".

To free Lazarus from hunger, you provide food. To free him from disease, you provide doctors and medicine. To free him from the elements, you provide clothing and shelter. But what about the rich man, how do you free him from selfish greed and an uncaring attitude? The answer: You provide opportunities for sharing his wealth. In very simple terms, that is Luke's whole message to the rich -- share your wealth. Give some of it away. Don't keep it all for yourself. Greed is concerned with getting. The Gospel is concerned with giving. Just as Lazarus (or any poor person) may need food and clothing and shelter for a more satisfying life, so the rich need to be freed from selfish greed for a more satisfying life. If one's whole life is centered on getting more for self (greed) -- that person can never be satisfied. There will always be something more to get. Enough is never enough. There will be something bigger and better that can be bought. How do you minister to wealthy people? [And nearly all Americans are wealthy by the world's standards.] You give them opportunities to share with others who aren't so fortunate. Giving gives new life in two ways: It frees the giver from greed and it brings exciting, new opportunities for the recipients. In addition, we also need to remember that Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be" (Lk 12:34). So giving to others can also cure an uncaring heart.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 2215 S 8th Ave., Yuma, AZ 85364