Years ago, a friend gave me a copy of a lithograph of St. Lazarus — the one held in the bosom of Abraham, not the Lazarus awakened by Jesus from a four-day death nap.
There’s a church in the background. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus doesn’t tell us if Lazarus was a church-goer, but if he was, he didn’t attend what looks like a medieval Italian parish.
The tall, gray-haired, and fair-skinned Lazarus looks more like a haloed Scandinavian senior than a Mediterranean mendicant.
He has tattered clothes, walks with a crutch and carries a bell like a leper to warn of his presence. He’s the patron of lepers, but the story never says he has leprosy, only sores.
Why do I even hang on to that picture? Well, it reminds me of my favorite parable and the one that may have been Jesus’s favorite, too. After all, Lazarus is the only character in all the parables to whom Jesus gives a name.
The rich man, with his vast estates, expensive linen and purple robes, is nameless and begging for a taste of water.
While suffering in the afterlife, there is no backstory of murder, extortion, tax cheating, or wife beating. All we know is that he ignored poor Lazarus lying “at his door.”
That location of Lazarus implies that the rich man intentionally turned a blind eye to Lazarus. He would have had to step over him just to get out of his house.
And then there is Lazarus himself. Again, there is no personal history. We don’t know whether his poverty was something he was born into or something he fell into after some traumatic event.
We don’t know if he was a good person, virtuous and righteous, rather than shiftless and lazy.
All we know is that he was poor. All we know is that dogs licking his sores was more comfort than the rich man offered him.
In this skeletal structure, Jesus allows no grounds for the defense of the rich man and no opportunity for judgement of the poor man. He ties our hands and restrains our jerking knees so that there is only one conclusion: you must serve the poor.
And that name Jesus used? In Hebrew, Lazarus is “Eliezer” which means “God helps” — in this world and the next.
As the rich man learned too late, a lack of that help in this world is on us.