“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’.” (Luke 16:19-31)
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
If you are in traffic, whether a driver or a pedestrian, the probability of someone driving a car worth tens of thousands of euros cutting you off is four times greater than is the case for people driving modest cars. It may seem like an anecdotal conclusion, but it is, in fact, the observation of a team of psychologists from Berkeley University in California, who, for many years now, have been studying the influence of social status on behaviour.
Belonging to a higher social class is associated with a higher number of unethical behaviours, said Paul Piff, the main author of the study. This happens because people with a high social status tend to think that selfishness and greed are acceptable.
Rich people’s thinking alters because their perception of belonging to a higher social class generates a shift in attitude, inside the individual, from the affluent context they are in to one’s own person, prioritising personal interest, according to another study published in 2011. “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind,” says antihero Gordon Gekko, an unscrupulous character who gets rich overnight, in a famous scene from the movie “Wall Street”. The portrait of the man of high society, greedy and unethical, is the one sketched by Jesus of the rich man in His parable.
Today a door, tomorrow a precipice
In Jesus’ parable “the door” is the only meeting place between characters coming from completely different walks of life (the rich man who trusts in his wealth and the poor man who trusts in God). The door becomes what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was in the Garden of Eden—a symbol of the test—and the listeners to the parable wonder whether the rich man will manage to cross its threshold to notice someone else besides himself. This way, the door is not just an entry into the house, but a way out, towards the other.
In Jesus’s parable, God’s Kingdom offers a gate to our neighbour. However, if God is forced to help the poor man Himself, then the gate disappears. 
Teddy Getty Gaston is one of the five wives of J. Paul Getty, who in 1966 was declared the richest American alive. In 2013, Teddy published the book Alone Together, in which she recounts how, in 1952, the American billionaire would admonish her for the money she had spent for treating their son who had cancer: “I am glad you realize that the amounts are enormous.” Six years later the child died, and Getty did not make it to the funeral. Teddy filed for divorce shortly after that. Twenty one years later, one of Getty’s grandsons was kidnapped. The ransom amounted to 17 million dollars. Getty refused to pay. Five months later, a lock of hair and an ear reached a newspaper office, together with a letter threating to further mutilate Getty’s grandson unless the amount of 3.2 million dollars was paid. When the kidnappers dropped the amount to 3 million, Getty accepted to pay 2.2 million dollars—the maximum amount that could be deducted from his taxes. The remaining 800 000 dollars he lent to his son against an interest rate of 4% per year. Despite all this, Getty had the audacity to justify himself, saying that he delayed the payment lest he would endanger his other nephews and encourage crime.
“The door trial” from Lord Jesus’ parable points to the same treacherous face of evil. The rich man does not directly hurt Lazarus (which allows him to still think of himself as a worthy son of Abraham). Neither does he do him good, not even when Lazarus needed just the breadcrumbs falling from the rich man’s table. Seeing that the “door” is God’s direct invitation to act, the lack of empathy, the rich man’s indifference, is what creates the unbridgeable precipice at the end of the parable. Neglecting to proactively do something for someone who needs help places a blame upon us that we will one day have to face. There is no second chance beyond death. One last question remains.
“Too late”—this is the parable’s recurring theme. When the rich man becomes aware of Lazarus, it’s too late. When he realizes that the gap is unbridgeable, it’s too late. When he becomes concerned for his brothers and is interested in the prophets and the Law, it’s too late.
Do all people receive equal chances during their lifetimes?
Wouldn’t the real chance for change occur when we witness a miracle or receive a testimony from beyond the grave? The rich man in the parable verbalizes this question that troubled the hearts of some of Jesus’ listeners. When the rich man asks Abraham to let a dead person warn his brothers, he implicitly suggests that he did not get enough warnings while he was still alive. Representing this attitude are all those who find excuses for their bad choices, suggesting that God did not warn them, and thus denying the sufficiency of God’s Word, the providence of God, and that of the conscience.
In an incredible display of the “father Abraham’s” answer at the end of the parable, only a few weeks after telling this story, Jesus raised His friend, Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother, from the dead. When Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, walked around alive, among them, most of the Jews and the Pharisees—who had asked Jesus for a sign to believe in Him—refused to believe Jesus was the Son of God. Furthermore, this miracle was the last straw for their “patience” and they decided to kill Jesus and Lazarus so that the living evidence of Jesus’ divine power could be silenced. Those who declare themselves holy are, in their hypocrisy, the most hopeless of sinners.
Just a word on Hell
The Hades the rich man went to is presented as a place of eternal torture only in this parable. All other passages of the Bible simply point to the “realm of the dead”, and rabbinic tradition does not contain any elaborate image of Hades or Gehenna. Even if some rabbis believed in the existence of such a place, others completely denied its objective existence. It is obvious that in the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus, the description of Hades is not literal. Jesus actually uses an existing folkloric fragment, inspired by an old Egyptian tale carried over in different versions into the Judaic world. This is why the scene must not be regarded as a confirmation or a realistic description of the common, contemporary understanding of the afterlife.
And still there is hope
In another parable, Jesus speaks precisely to these self-declared “righteous” people, in an attempt to give them one last chance:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?” (Matthew 21:28-31)
Neither of the two sons is superior to the other from the perspective of God’s holiness. Neither is praised.
The fact that the first is not hypocritical does not make him better than the other. His cultivated sin, his revolt against God, made his burden extremely heavy. Still, his repentance opens up a way for God’s grace—not because regret in and of itself is a merit which would prompt God to take him back but because regret is the first step in confessing his need for God.
The shock felt by those listening to the parable was significant when Jesus concluded: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31).
David Berkowitz is one of the most notorious American mass murderers. Between 1976 and 1977 he turned New York into his hunting ground, killing six women for no apparent reason. When, after a year of searching, he was finally apprehended, David asked the police officers the following question: “What took you so long?” Officer Joseph Coffey can still remember that during the first questioning, Berkowitz “didn’t blink for three straight hours and had a constant smile on his face.” Berkowitz pretended that demons and a black Labrador named Sam that belonged to a neighbour had made him commit the murders. During the trial he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 300 years imprisonment.
In 2011, after spending 35 years in jail, Berkowitz apologized for his murders. “Only God knows how much I regret what happened between 1976 and 1977. I too am in anguish over it and wish I could go back in time to have prevented it.” Gradually, it became known that Berkowitz now declares himself a born again Christian, after he made peace with God 23 years ago. Currently, while in prison, he assists people with disabilities or those with mental disorders who need help, and his deeds seem to speak of a different person. Still, somewhat naturally, some people, like officer Coffey, find this impossible to believe and accept—much like the Pharisees could not believe Jesus when He told them that the tax collectors and the prostitutes have priority in the Kingdom. Jesus did not actually want to speak about tax collectors and prostitutes with the Pharisees.
The Teacher was speaking about them, and the shocking comparison was meant to wake them up and enable them to understand their true condition and to cherish their last chance for its true worth.
The obstacles that prevented the Pharisees from being saved were of their own making. They pretended to respect the Law, but had no love for others. Their life was a lie. Still, Jesus did not tell them that they did not belong in the Kingdom. He told them only that prostitutes and tax collectors will enter it “ahead of them”. In other words, He wished for them to repent. Even for them, there was time.
Like the rich man from the previous parable, Jesus asks those who only speak of righteousness to “cross the doorstep”, to actually work together with God in His vineyard, in His ministry of saving people. The parable sends the same message: the fact that you are not (yet) against God, does not mean you are for Him. Whether He will find you inert or working against Him, the end will bring the same unfavourable sentence.
Still, because “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” , this article has an open end, like the parables inspiring it. The reading must continue with the articles that touch upon the grace, forgiveness, and transformation God brings into the lives of those who receive these good gifts.
Norel Iacob is Editor in Chief of ST Network and Semnele timpului.