We have now come to the story of the rich man and Lazarus story in chapter nine in Levine’s Short Stories by Jesus. This chapter is one of Levine’s best chapters. She first talks about the tension of whether or not to read eschatology into the parable. She leans on the side of reading the parable both eschatologically and economically.
I agree with Levine that the parable IS about economy as well as eschatology, though the detail of sitting at the side of Abraham was probably symbolic of being a friend or child of Abraham. Was the rich man moral or immoral? Was he deserving of being sent down to eternal punishment? These are the questions Levine attempts to answer.
In agreement with her, I would say that the man was immoral in his failure to give to the poor man. His privileged position allowed him to order Lazarus around to be sent back to his family even in the afterlife. Obviously, this is a hypothetical situation to illustrate his callousness. Was he deserving to be sent to eternal punishment? Of course, that’s why the parable has him down there. This may not sit well with our theological sensibilities but Jesus isn’t about fitting our grid.
One important observation she makes is about indifference. The rich man didn’t hate Lazarus. He just didn’t pay attention enough to even muster up sympathy. That is the real tragedy. While the Bible SEEMS to be against riches, at the end, this parable seems to indicate that the Bible is against apathy. Those who love money like the Pharisees who sneered at Jesus in Luke 16.14, had to be apathetic to the wealth all around in order to love money that much.
Levine writes movingly, “Some people, we learn, will never change. They condemn themselves to damnation even as their actions condemn other to poverty… the parable also asks about what the average person should do… Do we dream of the rich man’s clothes and food? Do we fear becoming destitute? The parable interrogates our priorities as well…Ironically, what the rich man asked Lazarus to do – to warn his brothers of the threat of hell – the parable does for the readers.”