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Luke 16: 19-31

19. a certain rich man: This parable is found only in Luke's Gospel. Like the "rich fool" (12:16-21), he is not a sympathetic character. His splendid clothing recalls the description of the wealthy in 7:25. "Purple and fine linen" describe the ac­coutrements of the royal and wealthy (see Judg 8:26; Sir 45:10; Esth 1:6; 8:15). The traditional name "Dives" derives from the Latin translation of "rich man," although some early mss supply the name "Nineveh."

feasted extravagantly: The adverb lampros denotes brilliance and splendor. The term euphraino ("feast," or "celebrate") is used in 12:19 and 15:23-32 of special occasions. But this man does it every day! Each detail suggests the sort of opu­lence and overdone sumptuousness found in Amos 6:4-7 or "the Dinner at Trimalchio's" in Petronius' Satyricon; cf. also Juvenal, Satires 11:120-160 and Lucian of Samosata, The Dream 7-15.

20. poor man named Lazarus: The use of ptochos ("poor") in such close conjunction with plousios ("rich") alerts us to the fact that this parable provides a narrative rendering of the first Beatitude and woe of 6:20-24. The name "Lazarus" is the Greek form of Eliezer, "My God helps."

21. longed to be filled: Just as Luke masterfully sketched the rich man's careless af­fluence, so he luridly paints the poor man's condition. He is "dumped" at the rich man's door, so is probably crippled. He is covered with sores. He is hun­gry. Rather than receive help from the rich man's table, his sores are licked by dogs. This is not a sentimental touch; things associated with dogs were unclean, so this is another sign of the man's outcast condition (see Exod 22:31; 1 Kgs 21:19. 24; lxx Ps 21:16; Matt 15:26-27; Mark 7:27-28; cf. also m.Kil. 1:6; 8:6; Ned. 4:3; Sot. 9:15; Toh. 3:8; 4:3; 8:6).

22. by the angels to Abraham's bosom: This translation retains the traditional "bosom" for kolpos, although as in 6:34 the English word "lap" (cf. the use of kolpos in Acts 27:38 for a "bay") might be better. In John 1:18 and 13:23, a place by the bosom denotes intimacy. The expression "bosom of Abraham" is found only in Luke's Gospel, and may derive from the ancient biblical idea of "being gathered to one's people" at death (Gen 49:33; Num 27:13; Deut 32:50; Judg 2:10). Abraham functions here as the "father" of this people (see also 1:73; 3:8;

13:16, 28; 19:9).

23. while he was in Hades: For Luke's use of "Hades," see the note on 10:15. Its rough equivalence to sheol is indicated by the citation of lxx Ps 16:10 in Acts 2:27. The Greek sentence neatly contrasts the man "in torments" to Lazarus "in the bosom," indicating already the reversal of their conditions.

24. father Abraham, have mercy on me: The rich man uses this title here and in verse 30. But John the Baptist had already indicated that it was not enough to claim "we have Abraham as our father"; they must "do the fruits required of repent­ance" (3:8). The cry "have mercy on us" will be addressed to Jesus in 17:13 and 18:38-39. The irony of the story is that he now requests "mercy" (eleos) who did not show mercy in almsgiving (eleemosyne) to the poor man.

25. good things during your life: In this case, Luke's theme of the divine reversal is worked out in terms of individual eschatology: the "good things during his life" are matched now by "suffering pain" (odynaomai; see 2:48 and Acts 20:38). In contrast, the "evil things" (kaka) experienced by Lazarus are replaced by a "pres­ent consolation" (nyn hode parakaleitai), which once more echoes the language of the woe against the rich who "have their consolation" (paraklfsin, 6:24). For an outspoken depiction of the contrast between the very wealthy and the desti­tute in the Empire, see Juvenal, Satires 1:130-144.

26. in all these things: Is a very literal rendering of the Greek en pasi toutois. Some translations (RSV, Fitzmyer) treat it as a grammatical transition, "besides all this," which is possible. But it could equally be a statement about "all these matters" of eschatology. In every respect, namely, there is the great divide between the rewarded and the punished. Notice that in Greek the pronouns are plural at this point; the gulf is fixed between "us" and "you people." For the vision of the afterlife here, see the very similar picture in 1 Enoch 18:11-16; 21:1-10; 22:1-14, and Matt 25:31-46.

27. can bear witness to them: The sense is "to warn," but diamartyromai is used con­sistently by Luke throughout Acts for "bearing witness" to one raised from the dead (Acts 2:42; 8:25, 40, 42; 18:5; 20:21, 23, 24; 23:11; 28:23) and fits the double entendre of "one returned from the dead" in this passage.

29. Moses and the prophets: The phrase refers to the Scriptures in their prophetic force. Above all, in this context (cf. 16:16), to their demand that the poor be cared for in the land (e.g.., Exod 22:21-22; 23:9; Lev 19:9-10; 19:33; 23:22; Deut 10:17-19;14:28-29; 15:1-11; 16:9-15; 24:17-18; 26:12-15; Amos 2:6-8; Hos 12:7-9; Mic 3:1-3;

Zeph 3:1-3; Mal 3:5; Isa 5:7-10; 30:12; 58:3; Jer 5:25-29; 9:4-6). This fundamental obligation of covenantal fidelity is the unmistakable teaching of Torah in each of its parts.

listen to them: "Hearing" the prophet is a fundamental theme both in the Gospel (5:1,15; 6:17, 27, 47-49; 7:29; 8:8-15,18, 21; 9:35; 10:16; 11:28; 14:35; 19:48; 21:38) and Acts (2:22, 37; 3:22-23; 4:4; 7:2; 15:7; 18:8). In this connection "hearing" includes "obeying."

30. they will repent: The word used is metanoein, which describes the proper response to the hearing of God's word through a prophet (see 10:13; 11:32; 13:3-5; 15:7-10). The use of the term implies that the rich man's fate was not simply the result of a mechanical reversal, but was a punishment for not heeding the prophets and "repenting" during his lifetime.

come to them from the dead: Luke stays within the framework of the story, not using the explicit language of "resurrection." For the authority given to such post-mortem appearances, see 1 Sam 28:7-20; Cicero, Republic 6:9-26; Philostratus. Life of Apollonius of Tyana 8:31.

31. neither will they be convinced: The verb peitho means "to convince" (see Acts 13:43;

14:19; 17:4; 18:4). In the passive, "be convinced," it is close to "believe," or "rely on" (11:32; 18:9; 20:6; Acts 5:36-37), so some mss in this place have "be­lieve." The verb "rise" (anistsmi) is one used frequently by Luke for the resur­rection of Jesus (9:22; 18:33; 24:9, 46; Acts 2:24, 32; 3:22, 26; 13:32). Some mss have egeiro ("raise") which Luke uses just as often in the same connection (7:14;

9:7, 22; 20:37; 24:6, 34; Acts 3:7, 15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 37). The meaning and allusion are in either case the same; the statement points beyond the par­able to Jesus as the prophet whom God raised up, proclaimed in the narrative of Acts.


As with the first half of this chapter, the bulk of the material here comes from Luke, with only the sayings in 16:16-18 finding any parallel in the other Synoptic Gospels. As the material is Luke's own, so does it serve his narra­tive purposes. It is easier, in fact, to make sense of the overall narrative func­tion of this section than it is to figure out how its pieces fit together with internal logic.

Throughout this journey section we have noticed how Luke has Jesus alternate his sayings between the crowds, opponents and disciples. In chap­ters fifteen and sixteen, the impact of this alteration is particularly strong. Jesus had told the parables of the lost (15:3-32) to the lawyers and Pharisees who complained because he accepted the outcast (15:1-2). Then, Luke had Jesus turn to his disciples with a warning about the appropriate use of pos­sessions (16:1-12), stressing that service both of God and Mammon was im­possible (16:13). It is in response to these teachings that the Pharisees mock Jesus (16:14). All his subsequent statements in chapter 16 are to be regarded as a response to this attack (16:15-31), before Jesus turns again in 17:1 with a teaching of his disciples. It is appropriate to see in this exchange, there­fore, a continuation of the theme of the rejection of the prophet by the reli­gious leaders, with Jesus' response suggesting as well their own rejection by God.

We notice in this regard that the money-loving Pharisees do not only reject his teaching, they mock him. And in his response, Jesus makes clear that they are an "abomination" before God, no matter how much they jus­tify themselves (16:15). So much is clear. But why should Luke at this point include the statements concerning the Law? In particular it is difficult to un­derstand how these sayings fit with each other, or what they are doing in this context. Some patient disentangling may be needed.

The statement in 16:16 is itself obscure enough. Is Jesus contrasting pe­riods in the history of salvation, so that an age of "law and prophets" is succeeded by the age of "kingdom proclamation," with John the Baptist as the turning point? As suggested in the notes on 16:16, if that were the point, one would have wished it be made with greater clarity. Or is he demarcating those periods in order to assert that "the Law" remains in ef­fect even in this time of the kingdom which is open to "all?" Taking the two statements this way, we would read "the Law and Prophets" in verse 16 as Scripture in its prophetic meaning which is being fulfilled in the procla­mation of the kingdom, and verse 17 as stating the enduring normativity of the Law as guide to morality.

But if that is the case, why should Luke include the statement on divorce in 16:18? It pops up in the text without any apparent motivation. What does divorce have to do with the proper use of possessions, or for that matter with idolatry? Worse, the saying seems to stand at least in tension if not in contradiction to verse 17, for Jesus' absolute and unequivocal prohibi­tion of divorce cannot be taken as an affirmation of "law" in any obvious sense, for Moses had clearly allowed divorce in Deut 24:1-4.

As a first point of entry into these sayings, we can observe that the com­bination of elements found in them is not altogether unprecedented. When discussing 16:9-12, we suggested that a bilingual pun on Mammon/faithful could account for the collocation of disparate sayings. Perhaps something similar is at work, here. Notice the oddness of the term bdelygma, or "abomi­nation." Its first and most obvious reference is to "idolatry" in the biblical tradition (see notes). But the term is also used in two other important con­nections in Torah, once in condemning financial misdealing (Deut 25:16), and once in condemning a divorced man cohabiting again with his former wife (Deut 24:4). Idolatry, money, and divorce are joined by the term bdelygma.

That this is not entirely fanciful is suggested by a very similar triad in the Qumran writings. In an interpretation of Isa 24:17, the author of the Damascus Rule identifies the "three nets of Satan" that entrap Israel as three sham forms of righteousness: "the first is fornication, the second is riches, the third is profanation of the temple." Fornication is further explained as an interpretation of divorce more liberal than that of the sect, and profana­tion of the Temple as not observing purity regulations (in sexual situations) (CD 4:14-5:10). Once more, idolatry, divorce, and possessions are joined. Some such precedent may underlie Luke's combination as well.

In Luke's narrative context, of course, the point of these sayings is po­lemical: the Pharisees pretend to a piety concerning the Law, and on that ground "justify themselves." They complain when "all are urged to enter" the kingdom—or when "anyone can force" themselves into it (16:16). And the basis of their complaint is that such people are not righteous by the Law (15:1-2). Jesus' rejoinder not only calls their criticism a matter of self-inflation, but provides a transition to a parable which questions whether those who are "lovers of money" (16:14) can themselves be "hearing Moses and the Prophets."

The parable of the rich and poor men has some parallels in ancient litera­ture. The theme of fortunes being reversed after death finds splendid ex­pression, for example, in Lucian of Samosata's Dialogues of the Dead. The eschatological scenario, however, and especially the negative attitude to­ward the oppressive rich are best paralleled by the Jewish apocalyptic writ­ing, 1 Enoch 94-99. This "woe," in 1 Enoch 94:8 can stand as a commentary on Luke's parable: "Woe to you, ye rich, for ye have trusted in your riches, and from your riches shall ye depart, because ye have not remembered the Most High in the days of your riches."

Indeed, Luke's parable in 16:19-31 provides the perfect narrative expression of his own Beatitudes and woes in 6:20, 24. The characters are simply types, "a certain rich man," a "certain poor man." No moral attributes are given to either directly. The story is simply one of a dramatic reversal of fortunes, which reaches a satisfying climax in verses 25-26. The one who had enjoyed "good things" in life is now tormented; the one who had only "evil things" has now a "consolation." No moralism, only the divine rever­sal promised in the Sermon on the Plain.

But as in the parable of the lost son, there is an appendix which complicates the simple story and gives it a polemic sting. The rich man asks for Lazarus to be sent as a warning to his brothers. This plea not only reveals the man's continuing arrogance—he wants Lazarus to cool his own tongue, as though he were a servant, and to be sent as a messenger to his brothers!!—but suggests to the reader that there was, in fact, a moral rea­son for this reversal. This man had not only been rich and extravagant, he had been hard of heart. His wealth had made him insensitive to the de­mands of the Law and Prophets alike that the covenant demands sharing goods with the poor (see notes). The concrete expression of his rejection of the Law was his neglect of the poor man at his gate. There is a saying in the Talmud, in fact, that "whoever turns away his eyes from one who appeals for charity is considered as if he were serving idols" (bT Bab.Bat. l0a). So Abraham's response, "they have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them," applies in the first instance to this rich man. We under­stand that if he had fed the poor man who "longed to be filled from what fell from the table" he could have avoided his present condition.

The words of Abraham suggest that the situation of this man as well as of his brothers is hopeless. They are equally locked into their rejection of the Law and Prophets, for they live as heedlessly as he had. They will not convert on the basis of hearing the Scripture (16:30). The final words of the parable seal their rejection: even if someone came back from the dead, they would not listen (16:31).

The parable is therefore one of rejection. By having Jesus tell it to Pharisees whom he has characterized as "money-lovers," Luke makes it apply directly to their own rejection. As the rich man had scorned the de­mands of the Law and Prophets to give alms, so have they "mocked" Jesus' teaching on almsgiving (16:9-13). And in spite of their claim to hold the de­mands of the Law, they reject the outcasts among the people (15:1-2), just as the rich man had rejected Lazarus. Therefore as the rich man is rejected from a place in the people ("the bosom of Abraham"), so are they to be rejected from the people. Finally, the parable points beyond itself to the larger narrative of Luke-Acts. The reader cannot miss the reference in 16:31 to the resurrection of Jesus, whom the leaders will reject yet another time when they refuse to hear the words of the apostles in the narrative of Acts.


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