THE UNJUST STEWARD
DIVES AND LAZARUS
JEWISH AGRICULTURAL NOTES
PRICES OF PRODUCE
WRITING AND LEGAL DOCUMENTS
PURPLE AND FINE LINEN
JEWISH NOTIONS OF HADES
Although widely differing in their object and teaching, the last group of Parables spoken during this part of Christ’s Ministry are, at least outwardly, connected by a leading thought. The word by which we would string them together is Righteousness. There are three Parables of the Unrighteous: the Unrighteous Steward, the Unrighteous Owner, and the Unrighteous Dispenser, or Judge. And these are followed by two other Parables of the Self-righteous: Self-righteousness in its Ignorance, and its dangers as regards oneself; and Self-righteousness in its Harshness, and its dangers as regards others. But when this outward connection has been marked, we have gone the utmost length. Much more close is the internal connection between some of them.
We note it, first and chiefly, between the two first Parables. Recorded in the same chapter, 1 and in the same connection, they were addressed to the same audience. True, the Parable of the Unjust Steward was primarily spoken ‘to His disciples,’ 2 that of Dives and Lazarus to the Pharisees. 3 But then the audience of Christ at that time consisted of disciples and Pharisees. And these two classes in the audience stood in peculiar relation to each other, which is exactly met in these two Parables, so that the one may be said to have sprung out of the other. For, the ‘disciples,’ to whom the first Parable was addressed, were not primarily the Apostles, but those ‘publicans and sinners’ whom Jesus had received, to the great displeasure of the Pharisees. 4 Them He would teach concerning the Mamon of unrighteousness. And, when the Pharisees sneered at this teaching, He would turn it against them, and show that, beneath the self-justification, 5 which made them forget that now the Kingdom of God was opened to all, 6 and imagine that they were the sole vindicators of a Law 7 which in their everyday practice they notoriously broke, 8 there lay as deep sin and as great alienation from God as that of the sinners whom they despised. Theirs might not be the Mamon of, yet it might be that for unrighteousness; and, while they sneered at the idea of such men making of their Mamon friends that would receive them into everlasting tabernacles, themselves would experience that in the end a terrible readjustment before God would follow on their neglect of using for God, and their employment only for self of such Mamon as was theirs, coupled as it was with harsh and proud neglect of what they regarded as wretched, sore-covered Lazarus, who lay forsaken and starving at their very doors.
It will have been observed, that we lay once more special stress on the historical connection and the primary meaning of the Parables. We would read them in the light of the circumstances in which they were spoken – as addressed to a certain class of hearers, and as referring to what had just passed. The historical application once ascertained, the general lessons may afterwards be applied to the widest range. This historical view will help us to understand the introduction, connection, and meaning, of the two Parables which have been described as the most difficult: those of the Unjust Steward, 9 and of Dives and Lazarus.
At the outset we must recall, that they were addressed to two different classes in the same audience. In both the subject is Unrighteousness. In the first, which is addressed to the recently converted publicans and sinners, it is the Unrighteous Steward, making unrighteous use of what had been committed to his administration by his Master; in the second Parable, which is addressed to the self-justifying, sneering Pharisees, it is the Unrighteous Possessor, who uses only for himself and for time what he has, while he leaves Lazarus, who, in his view, is wretched and sore-covered, to starve or perish, unheeded, at his very door. In agreement with its object, and as suited to the part of the audience addressed, the first Parable points a lesson, while the second furnishes a warning. In the first Parable we are told, what the sinner when converted should learn from his previous life of sin; in the second, what the self-deceiving, proud Pharisee should learn as regarded the life which to him seemed so fair, but was in reality so empty of God and of love. It follows – and this is of greatest importance, especially in the interpretation of the first Parable – that we must not expect to find spiritual equivalents for each of the persons or incidents introduced. In each case, the Parable itself forms only an illustration of the lessons, spoken or implied, which Christ would convey to the one and the other class in His audience.
I. The Parable of the Unjust Steward. – In accordance with the canon of interpretation just laid down, we distinguish – 1. The illustrative Parable. 10 2. Its moral. 11 3. Its application in the combination of the moral with some of the features of the Parable. 12
It cannot now be difficult to understand the Parable. Its object is simply to show, in the most striking manner, the prudence of a worldly man, who is unrestrained by any other consideration than that of attaining his end. At the same time, with singular wisdom, the illustration is so chosen as that its matter (materia), ‘the Mamon of unrighteousness,’ may serve to point a life-lesson to those newly converted publicans and sinners, who had formerly sacrificed all for the sake, or in the enjoyment of, that Mamon. All else, such as the question, who is the master and who the steward, and such like, we dismiss, since the Parable is only intended as an illustration of the lesson to be afterwards taught.
The connection between this Parable and what the Lord had previously said concerning returning sinners, to which our remarks have already pointed, is further evidenced by the use of the term ‘wasting’ (diaskorpizwn), in the charge against the steward, just as the prodigal son had ‘wasted’ (dieskorpise) his substance. 15 Only, in the present instance, the property had been entrusted to his administration. As regards the owner, his designation as ‘rich’ seems intended to mark how large was the property committed to the steward. The ‘steward’ was not, as in St. Luke xii. 42-46, a slave, but one employed for the administration of the rich man’s affairs, subject to notice of dismissal. 16 He was accused – the term implying malevolence, but not necessarily a false charge – not of fraud, but of wasting, probably by riotous living and carelessness, his master’s goods. And his master seems to have convinced himself that the charge was true, since he at once gives him notice of dismissal. The latter is absolute, and not made dependent on the ‘account of his stewardship,’ which is only asked as, of course, necessary, when he gives up his office. Nor does the steward either deny the charge or plead any extenuation. His great concern rather is, during the time still left of his stewardship, before he gives up his accounts, to provide for his future support. The only alternative before him in the future is that of manual labour or mendicancy. But for the former he has not strength; from the latter he is restrained by shame.
Then it is that his ‘prudence’ suggests a device by which, after his dismissal, he may, without begging, be received into the houses of those whom he has made friends. 17 It must be borne in mind, that he is still steward, and, as such, has full power of disposing of his master’s affairs. When, therefore, he sends for one after another of his master’s debtors, and tells each to alter the sum in the bond, he does not suggest to them forgery or fraud, but, in remitting part of the debt – whether it had been incurred as rent in kind, or as the price of produce purchased – he acts, although unrighteously, yet strictly within his rights. Thus, neither the steward nor the debtors could be charged with criminality, and the master must have been struck with the cleverness of a man who had thus secured a future provision by making friends, so long as he had the means of so doing (ere his Mamon of unrighteousness failed).
A few archæological notices may help the interpretation of details. From the context it seems more likely, that the ‘bonds,’ or rather ‘writings,’ of these debtors were written acknowledgements of debt, than, as some have supposed that they were, leases of farms. The debts over which the steward variously disposed, according as he wished to gain more or less favour, were considerable. In the first case they are stated at ‘a hundred Bath of oil,’ in the second as ‘a hundred Cor of wheat.’ In regard to these quantities we have the preliminary difficulty, that three kinds of measurement were in use in Palestine – that of the ‘Wilderness,’ or, the original Mosaic; that of ‘Jerusalem,’ which was more than a fifth larger; and that of Sepphoris, probably the common Galilean measurement, which, in turn, was more than a fifth larger than the Jerusalem measure. 18 To be more precise, one Galilean was equal to 3/2 ‘Wilderness’ measures. Assuming the measurement to have been the Galilean, one Bath 19 would have been equal to an Attic Metrêtês, or about 39 litres. On the other hand, the so-called ‘Wilderness measurement’ would correspond with the Roman measures, and, in that case, the ‘Bath’ would be the same as the Amphora, or amount to a little less than 26 litres. 20 The latter is the measurement adopted by Josephus. 21 22 In the Parable, the first debtor was owing 100 of these ‘Bath,’ or, according to the Galilean measurement, about 3,900 litres of oil. As regards the value of a Bath of oil, little information can be derived from the statements of Josephus, since he only mentions prices under exceptional circumstances, either in particularly plentiful years, 23 or else at a time of war and siege. 24 In the former, an Amphora, or 26 litres, of oil seems to have fetched about 9d.; but it must be added, that, even in such a year, this represents a rare stroke of business, since the oil was immediately afterwards re-sold for eight times the amount, and this – 3s. for half an Amphora of about 13 litres – would probably represent an exceptionally high war-price. The fair price for it would probably have been 9d. For the Mishnah informs us, that the ordinary ‘earthenware casks’ (the Gerabh) held each 2Seah, or 48 Log, or about 26 litres. 25 Again, according to a notice in the Talmud, 26 100 such ‘casks,’ or, 200 Seah, were sold for 10 (presumably gold) dinars, or 250 silver dinars, equal to about 7l. 10s. of our money. And as the Bath (= 3Seah) held a third more than one of those ‘casks,’ or Gerabhin, the value of the 100 Bath of oil would probably amount to about 10l. of our money, and the remission of the steward, of course, to 5l.
The second debtor owed ‘a hundred Cor of wheat’ – that is, in dry measure, ten times the amount of the oil of the first debtor, since the Cor was ten Ephah or Bath, the Ephah three Seah, the Seah six Qabh, and the Qabh four Log. This must be borne in mind, since the dry and the fluid measures were precisely the same; and here, also, their threefold computation (the ‘Wilderness,’ the ‘Jerusalem,’ and the ‘Galilean’) obtained. As regards the value of wheat, we learn 27 that, on an average, four Seah of seed were expected to produce one Cor – that is, seven and a half times their amount; and that a field 1,500 cubits long and 50 wide was expected to grow a Cor. The average price of a Cor of wheat, bought uncut, amounted to about 25 dinars, or 15s. Striking an average between the lowest prices mentioned 28 and the highest, 29 we infer that the price of 3Seah or an Ephah would be from two shillings to half-a-crown, and accordingly of a Cor (or 10 Ephah) from 20 to 25 shillings (probably this is rather more than it would cost). On this computation the hundred Cor would represent a debt of from 100l. to 125l., and the remission of the steward (of 20 Cor), a sum of from 20l. to 25l. Comparatively small as these sums may seem, they are in reality large, remembering the value of money in Palestine, which, on a low computation, would be five times as great as in our own country. 30 These two debtors are only mentioned as instances, and so the unjust steward would easily secure for himself friends by the ‘Mamon of unrighteousness,’ the term Mamon, 31 we may note, being derived from the Syriac and Rabbinic word of the same kind.
Another point on which acquaintance with the history and habits of those times throws light is, how the debtors could so easily alter the sum mentioned in their respective bonds. For, the text implies that this, and not the writing of a new bond, is intended; since in that case the old one would have been destroyed, and not given back for alteration. It would be impossible, within the present limits, to enter fully on the interesting subject of writing, writing-materials, and written documents among the ancient Jews. 33 Suffice it to give here the briefest notices.
The materials on which the Jews wrote were of the most divers kind: leaves, as of olives, palms, the carob, &c.; the rind of the pomegranate, the shell of walnuts, &c.; the prepared skins of animals (leather and parchment); and the product of the papyrus, used long before the time of Alexander the Great for the manufacture of paper, and known in Talmudic writings by the same name, as Papir 34 or Apipeir, 35 but more frequently by that of Nayyar – probably from the stripes (Nirin) of the plant of which it was made. 36 But what interests us more, as we remember the ‘tablet’ (pinakidion) on which Zacharias wrote the name of the future Baptist, 37 is the circumstance that it bears not only the same name, Pinaqes or Pinqesa, but that it seems to have been of such common use in Palestine. 38. It consisted of thin pieces of wood (the Luach) fastened or strung together. The Mishnah 39 enumerates three kinds of them: those where the wood was covered with papyrus, 40 those where it was covered with wax, and those where the wood was left plain to be written on with ink. The latter was of different kinds. Black ink was prepared of soot (the Deyo), or of vegetable or mineral substances. 41 Gum Arabic and Egyptian (Qumos and Quma) and vitriol (Qanqanthos) seem also to have been used 42 in writing. It is curious to read of writing in colours and with red ink or Siqra, 43 and even of a kind of sympathetic ink, made from the bark of the ash, and brought out by a mixture of vitriol and gum. 44 We also read of a gold-ink, as that in which the copy of the Law was written which, according to the legend, the High-Priest had sent to Ptolemy Philadelphus for the purpose of being translated into Greek by the LXX. 45 But the Talmud prohibits copies of the Law in gold letters, or more probably such in which the Divine Name was written in gold letters. 47 48 In writing, a pen, made of reed was used, and the reference in an Apostolic Epistle 3 John 13 to writing ‘with ink and pen’ finds even its verbal counterpart in the Midrash, which speaks of Milanin and Qolemin (ink and pens). Indeed, the public ‘writer’ – a trade very common in the East – went about with a Qolemos, or reed-pen, behind his ear, as a badge of his employment. With the reed-pen we ought to mention its necessary accompaniments: the penknife, 54 the inkstand (which, when double, for black and red ink, was sometimes made of earthenware, Qalamarim), and the ruler – it being regarded by the stricter set as unlawful to write any words of Holy Writ on any unlined material, no doubt to ensure correct writing and reading.
In all this we have not referred to the practice of writing on leather specially prepared with salt and flour, 59 nor to the Qelaph, or parchment in the stricter sense. 60 For we are here chiefly interested in the common mode of writing, that on the Pinaqes, or ‘tablet,’ and especially on that covered with wax. Indeed, a little vessel holding wax was generally attached to it. On such a tablet they wrote, of course, not with a reed-pen, but with a stylus, generally of iron. This instrument consisted of two parts, which might be detached from each other: the hard pointed ‘writer’ (Kothebh), and the ‘blotter’ (Mocheq) which was flat and thick for smoothing out letters and words which had been written or rather graven in the wax. There can be no question that acknowledgments of debt, and other transactions, were ordinarily written down on such wax-covered tablets; for not only is direct reference made to it, but there are special provisions in regard to documents where there are such erasures, or rather effacements: such as, that they require to be noted in the document, 64 under what conditions and how the witnesses are in such cases to affix their signatures, 65 just as there are particular injunctions how witnesses who could not write are to affix their mark.
But although we have thus ascertained that ‘the bonds’ in the Parable must have been written on wax – or else, possibly, on parchment – where the Mocheq, or blotter, could easily efface the numbers, we have also evidence that they were not, as so often, written on ‘tablets’ (the Pinaques). For, the Greek term, by which these ‘bonds’ or ‘writings’ are designated in the Parable (grammata), is the same as is sometimes used in Rabbinic writings (Gerammation) for an acknowledgment of debt; the Hebraised Greek word corresponding to the more commonly used (Syriac) term Shitre (Shetar), which also primarily denotes ‘writings,’ and is used specifically for such acknowledgments. Of these there were two kinds. The most formal Shetar was not signed by the debtor at all, but only by the witnesses, who were to write their names (or marks) immediately (not more than two lines) below the text of the document, to prevent fraud. Otherwise, the document would not possess legal validity. Generally, it was further attested by the Sanhedrin 71 of three, who signed in such manner as not to leave even one line vacant. Such a document contained the names of creditor and debtor, the amount owing, and the date, together with a clause attaching the property of the debtor. In fact, it was a kind of mortgage; all sale of property being, as with us, subject to such a mortgage, which bore the name Acharayuth (probably, ‘guarantee’) When the debt was paid, the legal obligation was simply returned to the debtor; if paid in part, either a new bond was written, or a receipt given, which was called Shobher or Tebhara, because it ‘broke’ the debt.
But in many respects different were those bonds which were acknowledgements of debt for purchases made, such as we suppose those to have been which are mentioned in the Parable. In such cases it was not uncommon to dispense altogether with witnesses, and the document was signed by the debtor himself. In bonds of this kind, the creditor had not the benefit of a mortgage in case of sale. We have expressed our belief that the Parable refers to such documents, and we are confirmed in this by the circumstance that they not only bear a different name from the more formal bonds (the Shitre), but one which is perhaps the most exact rendering of the Greek term, a ‘writing of hand,’ ‘note of hand’). For completeness’ sake we add, in regard to the farming of land, that two kinds of leases were in use. Under the first, called Shetar Arisuth, the lessee, received a certain portion of the produce. He might be a lessee for life, for a specified number of years, or even a hereditary tiller of the ground; or he might sub-let it to another person. 79 Under the second kind of lease, the farmer – or Meqabbel – entered into a contract for payment either in kind, when he undertook to pay a stipulated and unvarying amount of produce, in which case he was called a Chokher (Chakhur or Chakhira), or else a certain annual rental in money, when he was called a Sokher.
Considering that the Jewish mind would be familiar with such modes of illustration, there could have been no misunderstanding of the words of Christ. These converted publicans might think – and so may some of us – that theirs was a very narrow sphere of service, one of little importance; or else, like the Pharisees, and like so many others among us, that faithful administration of the things of this world (‘the Mamon of unrighteousness’) had no bearing on the possession of the true riches in the next world. In answer to the first difficulty, Christ points out that the principle of service is the same, whether applied to much or to little; that the one was, indeed, meet preparation for, and, in truth, the test of the other. 90 ‘He that is faithful’ – or, to paraphrase the word, he that has proved himself, is accredited (answering to Nm)n) – ‘in the least, is also faithful [accredited] in much; and who in the least is unjust is also in much unjust.’ Therefore, if a man failed in faithful service of God in his worldly matters – in the language of the Parable, if he were not faithful in the Mamon of unrighteousness – could he look for the true Mamon, or riches of the world to come? Would not his unfaithfulness in the lower stewardship imply unfitness for the higher? And – still in the language of the Parable – if they had not proved faithful in mere stewardship, ‘in that which was another’s,’ could it be expected that they would be exalted from stewardship to proprietorship? And the ultimate application of all was this, that dividedness was impossible in the service of God. 91 It is impossible for the disciple to make separation between spiritual matters and worldly, and to attempt serving God in the one and Mamon in the other. There is absolutely no such distinction to the disciple, and our common usage of the words secular and spiritual is derived from a terrible misunderstanding and mistake. To the secular, nothing is spiritual; and to the spiritual, nothing is secular: No servant can serve two Masters; ye cannot serve God and Mamon.
II. The Parable of Dives and Lazarus. 92 – Although primarily spoken to the Pharisees, and not to the disciples, yet, as will presently appear, it was spoken for the disciples. The words of Christ had touched more than one sore spot in the hearts of the Pharisees. This consecration of all to God as the necessary condition of high spiritual service, and then of higher spiritual standing – as it were ‘ownership’ – such as they claimed, was a very hard saying. It touched their covetousness. They would have been quite ready to hear, nay, they believed that the ‘true’ treasure had been committed to their trust. But that its condition was, that they should prove themselves God-devoted in ‘the unrighteous Mamon,’ faithful in the employment of it in that for which it was entrusted to their stewardship, this was not to be borne. Nor yet, that such prospects should be held out to publicans and sinners, while they were withheld from those who were the custodians of the Law and of the Prophets. But were they faithful to the Law? And as to their claim of being the ‘owners,’ the Parable of the Rich Owner and of his bearing would exhibit how unfaithful they were in ‘much’ as well as in ‘little,’ in what they claimed as owners as well as in their stewardship – and this, on their own showing of their relations to publicans and sinners: the Lazarus who lay at their doors.
Thus viewed, the verses which introduce the second Parable (that of Dives and Lazarus) will appear, not ‘detached sayings,’ as some commentators would have us believe, but most closely connected with the Parable to which they form the Preface. Only, here especially, must we remember, that we have only Notes of Christ’s Discourse, made years before by one who had heard it, and containing the barest outline – as it were, the stepping-stones – of the argument as it proceeded. Let us try to follow it. As the Pharisees heard what Christ said, their covetousness was touched. It is said, moreover, that they derided Him – literally, ‘turned up their noses at Him.’ 93 The mocking gestures, with which they pointed to His publican-disciples, would be accompanied by mocking words in which they would extol and favourably compare their own claims and standing with that of those new disciples of Christ. Not only to refute but to confute, to convict, and, if possible, to convince them, was the object of Christ’s Discourse and Parable. One by one their pleas were taken up and shown to be utterly untenable. They were persons who by outward righteousness and pretences sought to appear just before men, but God knew their hearts; and that which was exalted among men, their Pharisaic standing and standing aloof, was abomination before Him. 94 These two points form the main subject of the Parable. Its first object was to show the great difference between the ‘before men’ and the ‘before God;’ between Dives as he appears to men in this world, and as he is before God and will be in the next world. Again, the second main object of the Parable was to illustrate that their Pharisaic standing and standing aloof – the bearing of Dives in reference to a Lazarus – which was the glory of Pharisaism before men, was an abomination before God. Yet a third object of the Parable was in reference to their covetousness, the selfish use which they made of their possessions – their Mamon. But a selfish was an unrighteous use; and, as such, would meet with sorer retribution than in the case of an unfaithful steward.
But we leave for the present the comparative analysis of the Parable to return to the introductory words of Christ. Having shown that the claims of the Pharisees and their standing aloof from poor sinners were an abomination before God, Christ combats these grounds of their bearing, that they were the custodians and observers of the Law and of the Prophets, while those poor sinners had no claims upon the Kingdom of God. Yes – but the Law and the Prophets had their terminus ad quem in John the Baptist, who ‘brought the good tidings of the Kingdom of God.’ Since then ‘every one’ had to enter it by personal resolution and ‘force.’ 95 Yes – it was true that the Law could not fail in one tittle of it. 96 But, notoriously and in everyday life, the Pharisees, who thus spoke of the Law and appealed to it, were the constant and open breakers of it. Witness here their teaching and practice concerning divorce, which really involved a breach of the seventh commandment. 97
Thus, when bearing in mind that, as previously stated, we have here only the ‘heads,’ or rather the ‘stepping stones,’ of Christ’s argument – from notes by a hearer at the time, which were afterwards given to St. Luke – we clearly perceive, how closely connected are the seemingly disjointed sentences which preface the Parable, and how aptly they introduce it. The Parable itself is strictly of the Pharisees and their relation to the ‘publicans and sinners’ whom they despised, and to whose stewardship they opposed thoughts of their own proprietorship. With infinite wisdom and depth the Parable tells in two directions: in regard to their selfish use of the literal riches – their covetousness – and in regard to their selfish use of the figurative riches: their Pharisaic righteousness, which left poor Lazarus at their door to the dogs and to famine, not bestowing on him aught from their supposed rich festive banquets.
On the other hand, it will be necessary in the interpretation of this Parable to keep in mind, that its Parabolic details must not be exploited, nor doctrines of any kind derived from them, either as to the character of the other world, the question of the duration of future punishments, or the possible moral improvement of those in Gehinnom. All such things are foreign to the Parable, which is only intended as a type, or exemplification and illustration, of what is intended to be taught. And, if proof were required, it would surely be enough to remind ourselves, that this Parable is addressed to the Pharisees, to whom Christ would scarcely have communicated details about the other world, on which He was so reticent in His teaching to the disciples. The Parable naturally falls into three parts.
The Parable opens by presenting to us ‘a rich man’ ‘clothed in purple and byssus, joyously faring every day in splendour.’ All here is in character. His dress is described as the finest and most costly, for byssus and purple were the most expensive materials, only inferior to silk, which, if genuine and unmixed – for at least three kinds of silk are mentioned in ancient Jewish writings – was worth its weight in gold. Both byssus – of which it is not yet quite certain, whether it was of hemp or cotton – and purple were indeed manufactured in Palestine, but the best byssus (at least at that time 99) came from Egypt and India. The white garments of the High-Priest on the Day of Atonement were made of it. 100 To pass over exaggerated accounts of its costliness, 101 the High-Priest’s dress of Pelusian linen for the morning service of the Day of Atonement was said to have cost about 36l.; that of Indian linen for the evening of the same day about 24l. Of course, this stuff would, if of home-manufacture, whether made in Galilee or in Judæa, 102 be much cheaper. As regarded purple, which was obtained from the coasts of Tyre, 103 wool of violet-purple was sold about that period by weight 104 at the rate of about 3l. the Roman pound, though it would, of course, considerably vary in price.
Quite in accordance with this luxuriousness – unfortunately not uncommon among the very high-placed Jews, since the Talmud (though, no doubt, exaggeratedly) speaks of the dress of a corrupt High-Priest as having cost upwards of 300l. – was the feasting every day, the description of which conveys the impression of company, merriment, and splendour. All this is, of course, intended to set forth the selfish use which this man made of his wealth, and to point the contrast of his bearing towards Lazarus. Here also every detail is meant to mark the pitiableness of the case, as it stood out before Dives. The very name – not often mentioned in any other real, and never in any other Parabolic story – tells it: Lazarus, Laazar, a common abbreviation of Elazar, as it were, ‘God help him!’ Then we read that he ‘was cast’ at his gateway, as if to mark that the bearers were glad to throw down their unwelcome burden. Laid there, he was in full view of the Pharisee as he went out or came in, or sat in his courtyard. And as he looked at him, he was covered with a loathsome disease; as he heard him, he uttered a piteous request to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table. Yet nothing was done to help his bodily misery, and, as the word ‘desiring’ implies, his longing for the ‘crumbs’ remained unsatisfied. So selfish in the use of his wealth was Dives, so wretched Lazarus in his view; so self-satisfied and unpitying was the Pharisee, so miserable in his sight and so needy the publican and sinner. ‘Yea, even the dogs came and licked his sores’ – for it is not to be understood as an alleviation, but as an aggravation of his ills, that he was left to the dogs, which in Scripture are always represented as unclean animals.
So it was before men. But how was it before God? There the relation was reversed. The beggar died – no more of him here. But the Angels ‘carried him away into Abraham’s bosom.’ Leaving aside for the present 108 the Jewish teaching concerning the ‘after death,’ we are struck with the sublime simplicity of the figurative language used by Christ, as compared with the wild and sensuous fancies of later Rabbinic teaching on the subject. It is, indeed, true, that we must not look in this Parabolic language for Christ’s teaching about the ‘after death.’ On the other hand, while He would say nothing that was essentially divergent from, at least, the purest views entertained on the subject at that time – since otherwise the object of the Parabolic illustration would have been lost – yet, whatever He did say must, when stripped of its Parabolic details, be consonant with fact. Thus, the carrying up of the soul of the righteous by Angels is certainly in accordance with Jewish teaching, though stripped of all legendary details, such as about the number and the greetings of the Angels. But it is also fully in accordance with Christian thought of the ministry of Angels. Again, as regards the expression ‘Abraham’s bosom,’ it occurs, although not frequently, in Jewish writings. On the other hand, the appeal to Abraham as our father is so frequent, his presence and merits are so constantly invoked; notably, he is so expressly designated as he who receives the penitent into Paradise, that we can see how congruous especially to the higher Jewish teaching, which dealt not in coarsely sensuous descriptions of Gan Eden, or Paradise, the phrase ‘Abraham’s bosom’ must have been. Nor surely can it be necessary to vindicate the accord with Christian thinking of a figurative expression, that likens us to children lying lovingly in the bosom of Abraham as our spiritual father.
To return to the Parable. When we read that Dives in torments ‘lifted up his eyes,’ it was, no doubt, for help, or, at least, alleviation. Then he first perceived and recognised the reversed relationship. The text emphatically repeats here: ‘And he,’ – literally, this one, as if now, for the first time, he realised, but only to misunderstand and misapply it, how easily superabundance might minister relief to extreme need – ‘calling (viz., upon = invoking) said: “Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus.”‘ The invocation of Abraham, as having the power, and of Abraham as ‘Father,’ was natural on the part of a Jew. And our Lord does not here express what really was, but only introduces Jews as speaking in accordance with the popular notions. Accordingly, it does not necessarily imply on the part of Dives either glorification of carnal descent (gloriatio carnis, as Bengel has it), nor a latent idea that he might still dispose of Lazarus. A Jew would have appealed to ‘Father Abraham’ under such or like circumstances, and many analogous statements might be quoted in proof. But all the more telling is it, that the rich Pharisee should behold in the bosom of Abraham, whose child he specially claimed to be, what, in his sight, had been poor Lazarus, covered with moral sores, and, religiously speaking, thrown down outside his gate – not only not admitted to the fellowship of his religious banquet, but not even to be fed by the crumbs that fell from his table, and to be left to the dogs. And it was the climax of the contrast that he should now have to invoke, and that in vain, his ministry, seeking it at the hands of Abraham. And here we also recall the previous Parable about making, ere it fail, friends by means of the Mamon of unrighteousness, that they may welcome us in the everlasting tabernacles.
It should be remembered that Dives now limits his request to the humblest dimensions, asking only that Lazarus might be sent to dip the tip of his finger in the cooling liquid, and thus give him even the smallest relief. To this Abraham replies, though in a tone of pity: ‘Child,’ yet decidedly – showing him, first, the rightness of the present position of things; and, secondly, the impossibility of any alteration, such as he had asked. Dives had, in his lifetime, received his good things; that had been his things, he had chosen them as his part, and used them for self, without communicating of them. And Lazarus had received evil things. Now Lazarus was comforted, and Dives in torment. It was the right order – not that Lazarus was comforted because in this world he had suffered, nor yet that Dives was in torment because in this world he had had riches. But Lazarus received there the comfort which had been refused to him on earth, and the man who had made this world his good, and obtained there his portion, of which he had refused even the crumbs to the most needy, now received the meet reward of his unpitying, unloving, selfish life. But, besides all this, which in itself was right and proper, Dives had asked what was impossible: no intercourse could be held between Paradise and Gehenna, and on this account 123 a great and impassable chasm existed between the two, so that, even if they would, they could not, pass from heaven to hell, nor yet from hell to those in bliss. And, although doctrinal statements should not be drawn from Parabolic illustrations, we would suggest that, at least so far as this Parable goes, it seems to preclude the hope of a gradual change or transition after a life lost in the service of sin and self.
Dismissing, therefore, this idea, we now find Dives pleading that Lazarus might be sent to his five brothers, who, as we infer, were of the same disposition and life as himself had been, to ‘testify unto them’ – the word implying more than ordinary, even earnest, testimony. Presumably, what he so earnestly asked to be attested was, that he, Dives, was in torment; and the expected effect, not of the testimony but of the mission of Lazarus, whom they are supposed to have known, was, that these, his brothers, might not come to the same place. At the same time, the request seems to imply an attempt at self-justification, as if, during his life, he had not had sufficient warning. Accordingly, the reply of Abraham is no longer couched in a tone of pity, but implies stern rebuke of Dives. They need no witness-bearer: they have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them. If testimony be needed, their has been given, and it is sufficient – a reply this, which would specially appeal to the Pharisees. And when Dives, now, perhaps, as much bent on self-justification as on the message to his brothers, remonstrates that, although they had not received such testimony, yet ‘if one come to them from the dead,’ they would repent, the final, and, as, alas! history has shown since the Resurrection of Christ, the true answer is, that ‘if they hear not [give not hearing to] Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be influenced [moved: their intellects to believe, their wills to repent], if one rose from the dead.’
And here the Parable, and the warning to the Pharisees, abruptly break off. When next we hear the Master’s voice, it is in loving application to the disciples of some of the lessons which were implied in what He had spoken to the Pharisees.