Sunday favorites

Luke 16:19-31

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.”

But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”

Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.”

He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”

He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

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  • That is so, so sad.  Jerks won’t even let him try to save his brothers.

    Yeah, family values.

  • PandaRosa

    Not sure, puts me in mind of my father, who never would listen to directions, or let anyone else drive. “I know how to get there, Goddanmit!” It might be meant that some people won’t listen to anyone or anything, even miracles.

  • But who do they have to listen to?  This passage says “Moses and the prophets,” but where and how many times do Moses and the prophets say that being rich is a one-way ticket to Hell?  Hell, God rewards several people in the Old Testament with riches, so I’m just not seeing where the brothers are being told something a thousand times, but are just too bullheaded to change.

  • Tricksterson

    Even when I was a kid this passage bothered me because I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of a place of eternal torment.  Yes, he was an asshole, yeah, maybe he deserved punishment but not forever.  Even Hitler or Stalin don’t deserve to be tortured without end.  And in fact it seems that the rich man has learned his lesson in the end.  At the very least he should be  moved up the rung to Purgatory.

  • Dash1

     Well, Deuteronomy commands the release of debts every 7 years and generosity to the poor; the book of Amos excoriates the Hebrews for trampling on the poor; Ezekiel 16:49 famously (but not famously enough) explains that Sodom’s sin was oppression of the poor; and there are others I don’t have time to look up now. There’s definitely a good bit there, though.

  • Sagrav

    To be fair, the story doesn’t say that the rich man is doomed to stay in Hades forever, just that he’s in pain and wants relief now.  I know that the lake of fire described in Revelations is supposed to burn sinners forever, but that’s supposed to be after the end times.  Or it’s an allegory for the fall of Rome.  Anyway, the place that the rich man finds himself in has fire, but is doesn’t sound like the end times forever-fire.  Unless Jesus intends to bring these tormented souls back to life at the end just to throw them right back into the fire they came out of.  

    Of course, since the story specifically refers to the place that the rich guy is in as Hades, maybe Jehovah just subcontracted out to the Olympian Hades to torture bad people until He’s done constructing His own lake of fire.  This seems like a bad deal for Hades since I seem to remember a passage from Revelations stating that Jehovah will throw both Hades and Death into the lake of fire when He’s done beating up the anti-Christ and his buddies.

    Religion is weird. 

  • Bardi

    Isn’t this a remake of an old Greek myth about the rich man who passed by a beggar outside his gate every day without comment.  When he died his task in Hades was to roll a giant stone wheel up a slope, which each time, almost at the top, escaped his control and rolled to the bottom.

    Looking over one day he saw the beggar next to Hades with, apparently no task.  Talking with Hades the former rich dude asked why he was punished and the beggar had no task and Hades pointed out his punishment for not helping the poor.

    Sorry, can’t remember the rich dude’s name.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Sisyphus, maybe? Or was there more than one Greek guy whose eternal punishment involved rolling a rock uphill? Because I can’t remember what Sisyphus did to get that punishment.

  • PandaRosa

    It was Sisyphus alright. He wasn’t a nice guy to begin with, a king who ruled with an iron hand and always thumbing his nose at the gods. He even captured Death, Thanatos, at one time, throwing the Fates into dismay. The rock business was mainly to keep him too busy to think of more trouble, but the beggar story would fit here.

  • vsm

    Sisyphus violated sacred hospitality by murdering guests, imprisoned Thanatos so no one could die and cheated his way out of Tartarus before being dragged back for the rock thing. He was an enterprising guy.

  • flat

    This reminds me of the Kings cross chapter in deathly hallows.

  • Richard Clayton

    In my experience, this passage is mostly popular among evangelicals due to Luke 16:31 being a handy little clobber verse: “You say you want evidence, but GOD says you wouldn’t really believe anyway! So much for atheists being ‘logical’!”

    It’s not really a persuasive strategy for soul-winning, but that doesn’t stop people from using Psalms 14:1 the same way…

  • Worthless Beast

    I don’t remember where I read it – one of the other prog. Christian blogs, but I remember reading an analysis of this passage regarding it being about “self-inflicted Hell” and bad attitudes.  It pointed out that, though he is now suffering, the rich man still has a “rich bastard” attitude toward other people – being so appalled that wretched-poor Lazarus is *getting any good at all* now, when he is not, and, of course, he doesn’t ask Abraham to go to his family, because Abe is too imporant. Send the servant! 

    And until he’s able to get rid of that attitude of sombodies and nobodies and rich-bastard “once poor, always beneath me,” that chasm will never be filled.

    As for his family – not a condmenation, just a statement of truth.  Think about some of the climate change denial people and folks like that. No evidence is going to convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced, especially if their comfort, status and riches are at stake.   You try telling a neocon that caring about the poor is “good for their soul” and will ultimately make them feel better about life.  Oh, they’ll try to twist scripture and weasel out of it… 

    In other words, I don’t think “Hades” is necessarily eternal, it just that nasty realms (spiritual and emotional if not physical) exist for people for as long as they want to hold onto a bad attitude.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    …and we have come full circle.

  • Tricksterson

    “Religion is weird.”

    At least, as a Discordian I belong to a religion in which being weird is the whole point.

  • I cannot hear this passage but in the voice of someone who did this part of Godspell.  I’m not sure who that young woman was who played Abraham, but she did it well.

  • Jenny Islander

    That’s C.S. Lewis’s position too.  He imagines Hell as a dreary, sprawling town in which people lead a pointless existence reenacting the evil that got them damned, which can be pathetic to watch, e.g. Napoleon endlessly marching through the empty halls of an enormous and opulent palace while muttering about all of the people who are really to blame for his failures.  However, a big, gloriously colored bus makes regular stops in Hell, offering a free ride to the gates of Heaven.  But you have to want to get on the bus.

  • SketchesbyBoze

     Jenny, that’s how I imagine hell, too.

  • LoneWolf343

    Actually, the prophets said a lot about the treatment of the poor. In fact, Ezekiel blamed the destruction of Sodom on their treatment of the poor and aliens. As I understand it, the prophets wrote before the Jews even conceived of Hell, so they couldn’t have said “Treat the poor well, or you go to Hell,” but they were very clear about how persecution of the lower classes were very displeasing to God.

  • But as you point out, there is a big difference between something that is “displeasing to God” and something that is “a thing that will get you slow-roasted for eternity.”

    And we have no evidence that the rich man’s brothers are jerks–it was just explained to the rich man that “during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things,” so the rich man has no basis for understanding why the situation is what it is…other than the fact that he was rich and Lazarus was poor.  And since God rewarded people with riches, the rich man is entirely justified in thinking that he has something pretty damned important to impart to his family.

  • Trixie_Belden

    I also am a little uncomfortable with “hey, I told you enough times, already” attitude.  After all, this is something terribly important.  If there were some sort of natural disaster pending, and you knew there were some people right in its path, wouldn’t you  do everything you could to warn them?  And if there was some way you could definitely get their attention (like a hologram warning directly projected into their living room right in front of their faces, or something), and you could do it, with no risk to your own life, wouldn’t you?  Or would you just say “F**k ’em, I left three voicemail messages already – if they’re too stupid to check their own voicemail once and a while, they deserve whatever they get!”

  • LoneWolf343

     What, you can’t understand that God giving riches and then instructing that you ought to take care of the poor are perfectly concurrent things?

  • PandaRosa

    Tragically we all know cases on both sides. Some people won’t listen even if they see the volcano/tornado/forest fire right in their back yard; think of those doomed “hurricane parties” that still happen. Some (like me) are honestly too obvious to ever check their voicemail until far too late. And some callous souls don’t think they have a duty to warn anyone not paying attention, living by  “every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost!”; there are days you wonder if they deliberately suppress warning anyone against oncoming tragedy. Think of Republicans (and I am one.)

  • And on top of that, to extend the metaphor a bit further, you then get a few dozen more voicemail messages, each claiming that a different route out is the only safe escape, and don’t listen to those other voicemails they’re lying!  Plus a few more voicemails saying the whole disaster is a hoax, or that any route is a safe route, for good measure.  And then, blaming someone for not picking the right voicemail to listen to & obey.