Interesting Exchange

Got a letter re: my recent piece on Catholic Exchange: Dake and Unger Vs. Jesus.

A reader wrote, in part:

I, however, understand (misunderstand perhaps?) the Lazarus parable slightly differently and am curious as to what you think of this: I have come to think of the Rich man and Lazarus story more like prophetic midrash (is there such a thing?) rather than merely parable. I think it’s different from his parables in several ways, an important one of which is that, I believe, it is the only one of Jesus’ stories in which a character is named outright.

Jesus’ friend Lazarus in John’s Gospel, (written for readers likely already familiar with the synoptic rich man parable) I think, is that same Lazarus who was indeed sent back from the dead. If so, the prayer was answered – nevertheless, many still didn’t believe, just as Father Abraham said. Jesus prophesies similarly (also reported by John) that belief in the truth would be lacking even if they saw the Son of Man ascending to where He was before (6:62). Those disciples who were “shocked” by his words and left him in 6:66 probably still did not believe when He did in fact later ascend as He told them He would, albeit in a different context.

So, what do you think about this take on Lazarus?

I do think you are dead right that it’s no accident that this is the only parable where a character is named. However, I would be cautious of historicizing this parable. I think it more likely that the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is told with a nod and a wink by Jesus shortly after the raising of Lazarus, not to describe Lazarus’ post mortem adventures, but simply to give force to the parable (there’s nothing like a resuscitated corpse sitting there to make an audience listen). There are some differences between Lazarus in the tale and what we know of the real Lazarus. He doesn’t seem as dirt poor as Lazarus in the parable. His sister apparently had some money. Recall her anointing of Jesus at Bethany.

But the point is well taken that, as a parable, it’s peculiar. It’s something along the lines of a joke with a point. Sort of like saying, “So Bush gets on this plane and flies to Iraq…” It alludes to real historical facts, but we should be cautious of taking too much of it as history when the main thing is the point of the story rather than its newspaper value.

Thanks for writing and for chewing over the riches of the Word of God! God bless your work in the Vineyard!

Mark Shea

Senior Content Editor

Catholic Exchange