Trinity 1 2014 Luke 16:19-31 22 June 2014
I. The Basic Idea
The basic idea is this parable is that God reveals Himself through the Scriptures, not that you can’t judge a book by its cover. But that idea is also there. The beggar Lazarus has nothing to offer God and doesn’t seem to be blessed by God. The rich man seems to be a great man and seems to have God’s blessing, yet when they die the rich man goes to Hell and Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom because Lazarus trusted in the promises given by Moses and the prophets.
II. Interpretive Ideas
The question for all the parables is “Where is Jesus? How does this reveal His character and grace?” Some have posited that the beggar Lazarus is the Christ figure, that in being covered by sores and poor He is the suffering servant of Isaiah. When the dogs lick His wounds, it is the Gentiles receiving life from the Lord’s Supper. That becomes pretty pointed when the rich man asks that Lazarus come back from the dead and warn his brothers because, of course, Jesus does come back from the dead. Abraham was right. The resurrection of Jesus Christ meant nothing to those who won’t listen to Moses and the prophets.
III. Main Idea: Lazarus is a Christian
I think, however, that the Lazarus is not the Christ-figure but represents Christians. He suffers as we all suffer in this life and he lives by faith. He trusts the promises in Moses and the prophets about the Messiah and God’s love for him. His sorrows don’t save him or impress God, rather God uses his sorrows to keep him dependent. The beggar learns to trust in God and to wait on Him rather than trusting in riches.
II. The interesting Detail: the dogs licking the wounds
In the parable before us the two men are vividly contrasted. One is rich, the other poor, one feasts sumptuously every day and the other is starving, one is covered with purple and fine linen and the other is covered with sores. The most intriguing detail, however, is that the poor man’s sores are licked by dogs, and to keep it in character, we’d have to say one is not licked by dogs and the other is.
The meaning of that licking hinges on the Greek word alla. Nearly every English translation, including KJV and ESV, translates it as “Moreover.” So if I said, “You are my friend, moreover you are my boss.” That means that being my boss is on top of being my friend. It is a bonus. So our English texts, after listing the sorrows of the beggar, say, “moreover the dogs came and licked his wounds.” That means that the dogs licking his wounds is one more degradation on top of the others.
But the word translated “moreover” is more naturally translated “but.” It is an adversative conjunction. It negates something. “You are my friend, moreover you are my boss” is quite a bit different than “You are my friend, but you are my boss.” “You are my friend is negated in that sentence. You are my friend, but you are my boss means you can’t really be my friend.
It could be that when Jesus said, “But the dogs came and licked his wounds” that he was negating some of the suffering of the beggar, that He meant that whatever trials the beggar suffered at least the dogs, if no one else, tried to comfort him.
If the beggar is a type of the Christian suffering in this world, then the dogs are God’s ministers. They bring some small balm for wounded souls, not enough perhaps to cure or stop death, but some. They bark and warn of false doctrine and dangers. They guard their friends and they are faithful to their Master.
The Point: God wants to comfort
The point is that God would not leave us in abject sorrow. He reaches out to us. We have Moses and the prophets. We should be comforted by the promises. We should have hope. And He sends the Gospel to us, the cleansing and life-giving words of Life, through the Office of the Holy Ministry.
I have given Holy Communion to people on their death beds. So far, it didn’t heal any of them. But many of them, most of them, were brought to tears by it, were thankful and comforted by it. They did not think it was a small thing. It might not have been that great of medicine for their bodies, but it was the medicine they most needed. It prepared them to pass over and to go to Abraham’s side because it brought to them the risen Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and washed away all their sins.
I do not say this to belittle your sorrows and I know that some of them you have brought on yourself. You are not innocent. You are not Job. Crosses are always custom-made and no one gets out of this unscathed. But no matter what your circumstances, your addictions or abuse or neglect, or what has been done to you, God does not leave you in your sorrows without comfort. Read the Bible and come to Bible class. Pray. Join the brethren in prayer at the Services and join them for mutual consolation. Come to Confession and come to the Sacrament of the Altar. For God’s purpose in keeping you close to Himself in suffering is in order to comfort you.