November 5, 2017

Gospel Commentary for the Fifth Sunday of Luke (St. Theophylact of Ochrid)

Fifth Sunday of Luke

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31

From The Explanation of the Gospel of St. Luke

By Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

19-22. "And there was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain poor man named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the poor man died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried.

These words follow closely upon what was said before. Because the Lord first taught, above [Lk. 16:1-13], how we are to be good stewards of wealth, now He appropriately adds this parable which teaches the same thing through the example of the rich man. This is a parable and not, as some have foolishly imagined, something which actually occurred. For good things have not yet been allotted to the righteous, nor punishments to the sinners. The Lord, then, fashioned this story to teach those who show no mercy and give no alms what punishments await them, and to teach the suffering what good things they will enjoy on account of the sufferings they patiently endure in this life.

The Lord gave no name to the rich man in this parable, because such a man is not worthy to be remembered by God by name. As the Lord says through the prophet, "nor will I make remembrance of their names through My lips." [Ps. 15:3] But the Lord mentions the poor man by name, for the names of the righteous are inscribed in the Book of Life. There is a story, according to the tradition of the Hebrews, of a certain Lazarus who lived at that time in Jerusalem, whose lot was one of extreme poverty and sickness. Because he was so well known in the city, the Lord uses his name in the parable. The rich man was awash in wealth, so much so that he clothed himself in purple and costly linen. Not only this, but he also luxuriated in every other kind of luxury. For it says that he fared sumptuously, not now and then, but everyday, and not in moderation, but sumptuously, meaning, extravagantly and at great cost. But Lazarus was destitute and grievously diseased, for it says that he was full of sores. It is one thing to be ill; it is another thing to be covered with open sores. But the evil which he suffered goes even further: lying at the gate of the rich man, he had the added torment of seeing others feasting to excess while he himself starved. He desired to be fed, not with their costly foods, but with the crumbs of these foods, the same crumbs which the dogs ate. He was also destitute of any help, for the dogs licked his sores, and he had no one to drive them away. Lazarus suffered such terrible things. Did he then blaspheme? Did he revile the luxury of the rich man? Did he condemn his callousness? Did he accuse the Divine Providence? He did none of these things, even in thought; rather, he bravely and wisely endured all. How do we know this? From the fact that the angels took him when he died. If he had been a grumbler and blasphemer, he would not have been deemed worthy of such an honor—to be escorted by angels. The rich man also died, and was buried. In truth, while he still lived his soul had been buried alive, entombed within his flesh. Therefore, when he died, his soul was not led away by the angels but was instead borne downwards into hades. He who has never had a single lofty or heavenly thought deserves the lowest place. Thus by saying that he was buried, the Lord implies that the rich mans soul received its portion in the lowest and darkest place.

23-26. And in hades he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.'

When the Lord cast Adam out of paradise He settled him in a place just opposite, so that the continuous sight of paradise before his eyes would keep fresh in his mind the calamity that had befallen him and would arouse in him a sharper sense of his fall from good things. In like manner the Lord condemned the rich man to a place just opposite Lazarus, so that the sight of him in such a blessed state might awaken in the rich man the realization of the good things he lost because of his cruelty. Why was it that he saw Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, and not of any other of the righteous? Because Abraham showed hospitality to strangers. The rich man sees Lazarus with Abraham as a reproof of his own in hospitality. Abraham used to draw into his own house even those who were just passing by, while the rich man overlooked a man who was lying every day within his very courtyard. And why does the rich man address his words to Abraham, and not to Lazarus? Perhaps he was ashamed. It may be that he judged Lazarus to be no different than himself and therefore assumed that Lazarus would bear a grudge for past wrongs. "If I, while enjoying such great prosperity, overlooked him while he was suffering such great afflictions, and did not even give him the crumbs from my table, how much more will he who was thus despised now remember those past wrongs and refuse to grant me any favor?" This is why he addresses his words to Abraham, thinking that the patriarch would be unaware of what had happened. How then does Abraham respond? Does he say, "O cruel and heartless man! Are you not ashamed? Only now do you remember compassion?" Not this, but rather, Son. Behold a compassionate and holy soul! A certain wise man has said, "Trouble not a soul that has been brought low." This is why Abraham says, Son. By this he also intimates that it is within his power only to speak to him gently, but more than this he is not permitted to do. "That which I have to give, I give you—a voice of compassion. But to go from here to there I cannot, for all things have been shut. And you have received your good things, and in like manner Lazarus evil things." Why does he use the [Greek] word apelabes, thou receivedst, and not the [simpler Greek] word elabes? We say [in Greek] that a recipient receives [apolambanei] those things which are his due. What then do we learn? That even if a man is utterly defiled and has reached the last degree of wickedness, perhaps he has done at least one or two good things. So that even such a man may have some good things, as when he obtains prosperity in this life as his reward, and thus it may be said that he has received these things as his due. Likewise Lazarus received evil things as his due. For perhaps he also did one or two evil things, and he received as his merited reward for these evil things the suffering which he endured in this life. Therefore now he is comforted, while you are in torment. The chasm indicates the separation and the difference that exists between the righteous and the sinners. Just as their choices were far different in this life, so too their dwelling places in the next life are separated by a great distance, each one receiving as his due the reward appropriate to his choices in this life.

Mark here a conclusion to be drawn against the Origenists who say that there will be a time when there is an end to hell, that the sinners will be united with the righteous and with God, and thus that God will become all in all. Let us hear what Abraham says, that they who would pass from hence to you, or from thence to us, cannot. Therefore it is impossible for anyone to go from the place apportioned to the righteous to the place of the sinners, and likewise, Abraham teaches us, it is impossible to go from the place of punishment to the place of the righteous. And Abraham, I presume, is more trustworthy than Origen. (1) What is hades? Some say that it is a place of darkness beneath the earth; others have said that hades is the departure of the soul from that which is seen to that which is unseen and invisible. While the soul is in the body, it is manifest through its own energies [which animate the body], but when the soul has departed from the body it becomes invisible. (2) This is hades, they say. The bosom of Abraham is the enclosure within which are stored up the good things that await the righteous, who after the storm have found the heavenly haven. We use the same word to name those bodies of water on the sea which are shaped like harbors and havens. (3) Mark this as well—on the day of judgment the man who did wrong will see the one he wronged in the glory that is his, and the man who was wronged will likewise see the one who wronged him in that condemnation which befalls him, just as here in this parable the rich man sees Lazarus, and Lazarus, the rich man.

27-31. Then he said, 'I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' Abraham saith unto him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.' And he said unto him, 'If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.'"

The miserable rich man, having failed in his request for himself, now makes supplication on behalf of others. See how punishment has led him to awareness. He who before had overlooked Lazarus as he lay at his feet now thinks of others who are absent, and begs that Lazarus be sent from the dead to his fathers house. He asks that not just anyone of the dead, but Lazarus in particular, be sent, so that the rich mans brothers might see him crowned with health and glory. They who once saw him in sickness and in dishonor and were witnesses of his poverty, would be witnesses of his glory. From this it is clear that Lazarus would have appeared to them in glory, had it been necessary to send him as a believable messenger. How then does Abraham reply? "They have Moses." "You do not take care of your brothers," he is saying, "as well as He Who created them, God Himself. For He has appointed ten thousand teachers for them." But the rich man answers, "Nay, father." Since he himself had heard the Scriptures and did not believe, considering the readings to be myths, he suspected that it was the same for his brothers. Judging them by what he knew to be true of himself, he said that they gave no more heed to the Scriptures than he had, but that if one should rise from the dead, then they would believe. There are those even now who say the same: "Who knows what is in hades? Who has ever come from there to tell us?" But let them hear Abraham who says that if we do not give heed to the Scriptures, we will not believe even those who come from hades. The Jews showed this to be true. Because they gave no heed to the Scriptures, they did not believe when they saw the dead resurrected, but even attempted to slay that other Lazarus who was four days dead. Many of the dead arose at the Lord's Crucifixion, yet this only intensified the Jews murderous assault against the Apostles. If raising the dead would truly help us to believe, the Lord would do this often. But there is no help so great as the close study of the Scriptures. For the devil by trickery has appeared to raise the dead and by this means has deceived the foolish; and, concerning those in hades, he spreads doctrines worthy of his own wickedness. But no such trickery can prevail against those who make wise study of the Scriptures. For the Scriptures are a lamp and a light [see Prov. 6:23], and when light shines, the thief appears and is discovered. Therefore, let us believe the Scriptures and not seek out resurrections from the dead.

The parable may also be understood in a more figurative sense. The rich man represents the Hebrew people. Of old this people was rich in all knowledge and wisdom, and in the words of God which are more precious than gold and many costly stones. And this people was clothed in purple and fine linen, having both kingship and priesthood, being a royal priesthood to God [Ex. 19:6]. The purple signifies kingship and the fine linen priesthood, for the Levites used fine linen cloth for the priestly vestments. The Hebrews fared sumptuously everyday. Everyday, morning and evening, they offered sacrifice, which was called the constant offering [endelechismos, Ex. 29:38, 42]. Lazarus represents the people from among the Gentiles, destitute of divine grace and wisdom, lying before the gates. For the Gentiles were not permitted to enter the house of God; this was considered a defilement, as when, in the Book of Acts, an outcry was made against Paul for bringing Gentiles into the temple and defiling that holy place [Acts 21]. The Gentiles were covered with the sores of festering sin, on which impudent dogs, the demons, were feeding. For our sores are pleasure to the demons. And the Gentiles longed for the crumbs which fell from the table of the rich man. They had no share at all of that bread which strengtheneth man's heart [Ps. 103:17], and they were in need of those most subtle and refined particles of the rational food, like the Canaanite woman who desired to be fed from the crumbs, even though she was a Gentile [Mt. 15] What then? The Hebrew people died to God, and their bones, which made no movement towards the good, became stiff in death. But Lazarus, the Gentile people, died to sin, and the Jews, who died in their sins, burn with the flame of spite. They are envious, as the Apostle says, that the Gentiles have been accepted unto faith [see Rm. 11:11], and that the people of the nations, who before were destitute and dishonored, are now in the bosom of Abraham, the father of the nations, and rightly so. For Abraham, himself a Gentile, believed in God, and changed from idolatry to the knowledge of God. Therefore it is right that those who share in his change and in his faith should also find rest in his bosom, and inherit his same portion, dwelling place, and store of good things. The Jew desires just one drop of the old sprinklings and purifications of the law in order to cool his tongue, that he might have the boldness to say to us that the law is still in effect. But he does not obtain his desire. For the law was until John the Forerunner and from then "sacrifice and offering hast Thou not desired," as the prophet foretold [Ps. 39:9] And Daniel foretold that the "anointing [chrisma] shall be destroyed" [Dan. 9:26], and "prophecy shall be sealed" [Dan. 12:4, 9], meaning, that prophecy shall cease and be closed.

But you, O reader, must also understand the moral meaning of this parable: do not be rich in wickedness and overlook your mind which is starved and cast down, although it was created to be borne aloft. Do not let it wander outside, nor let it lie idly on the ground, but lead it within and let it act. Then there will be in you the working of the mind and the spirit, and not merely the feasting of the flesh. Likewise, there are other elements of this parable which may easily be understood for your moral benefit.


1. Origen's teaching of apokatastasis, the ultimate restoation and reconciliation of everyone, even Satan, was condemned as heresy at the Fifth Ecumenical Council held in Constantinople in 553 A.D.

2. BI. Theophylact here provides the connection between the Greek word, ades, hades, and its etymological root, aeides, invisible.

3. The Greek word kolpos means both bosom and bay.