Lazarus, A Parable

photocredit: Ben Shahn. Zinc, ARK. 1935.

photocredit: Ben Shahn. Zinc, ARK. 1935.

Bethany was the wealthiest woman in her town. Known as a person of deep charity, she never failed to answer every request for help with something useful and gracious. When she learned that her groundskeepers had fallen upon financial hardship, Bethany immediately offered to pay their debts. But she refused to stop at that. She devoted herself to getting them back on their feet as entrepeneurs, teaching them how to transform their small talent for organic gardening into a profitable business teaching home agriculture to wealthy young children as a part of a neo-craftsman curriculum.

This family and many others remained continually grateful for all their days, espousing the wealthy benefactress’s glory and virtue to all who would listen. And many did. Bethany’s reputation grew with every act of kindness she provided. Always, she insisted, she did her work as an act worship to the deity that provided her this immense and burdensome gift of wealth and power.

Now, a certain beggar, named Lazarus, was laid at her gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with whatever he could find from Bethany’s trash. But, because Lazarus had once insulted Bethany, she refused to help, even going so far as to shame and shun those who would. So not even the dogs would come to his side.

Bethany, knowing that Lazarus was waiting to rummage through her waste in order to find something edible, decided that that was not acceptable. She poured bleach onto her garbage, onto her leftover roast and her wilted vegetables and into her slightly turned bottles of milk. Lazarus, being desperate for sustenance, ate and drank the tainted items anyway. Already weak from exposure and starvation, the chlorine finished him, turning his guts inside out.

Though not a perfect man, Lazarus was loved by God. And as he bled to death, an angel came to carry him away to Abraham’s bosom.

Shortly after, through completely separate circumstances, the wealthy woman also died. But though she did good on nearly every occasion, God did not favor her and instead sent her to Hades. In Hades, she lifted up her eyes to the far off heavens. Being in torment, she saw Abraham with Lazarus at his bosom. She 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 in anguish in these flames.”

But Abraham replied, “Daughter, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish.”

She said, “If I cannot be saved, I ask you then, Father, that you would send him to my mother’s house; for I have five sisters, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.”

But Abraham said to him, “In their own time and place, they have all the wisdom of the prophets and the poets to inform them of how to live their lives in truth and spirit. Let them listen to them.”

Abraham continued, “Besides all that, between us and them there is fixed a great gulf, that those who want to pass from the dead to the living are not able, and that none may cross over from the living to the dead without relinquishing their passage to return.”

She said, “No, Father Abraham, but if one of us returns to them from the dead, only then will they truly repent. Only then will they be able to live their lives fully and in the present.”

But Abraham said to her, “Daughter, there is no other way. If they refuse to listen to the prophets and the poets, neither will they be persuaded by one of us returning from the dead. For though we may sing as angels in their ears, they will not hear.” [2]


[1] Loosely based on the account of Lazarus and the Rich Man in the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31)

[2] From Swinburne’s “A Leave Taking”


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