Our gospel text for this coming Sunday tells of a nameless rich man and a poor man, named Lazarus, who lay outside the gate.
Their fates are detailed as a cautionary tale.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Jesus was teaching his disciples (with the Pharisees listening in). This story was for them to hear. The references to father Abraham would have resonated with the people listening. (see John 8:39)
This story must be a rhetorical device rather than an actual picture of the afterlife. It isn't such good news if you can eternally hear the whining of those being tortured in Hades. I would expect the afterlife to be rather oblivious of those who went to a different place.
The rich man wants someone (specifically Lazarus) to go and warn his 5 brothers. Abraham points out that they have the Law and the Prophets to show them the way. The rich man suggests that someone more is required--perhaps someone rising from the dead to deliver the message. Abraham says that won't be sufficient. How telling that when Jesus, the storyteller, rose from the dead there were many who persisted in their unbelief.
The story is this: There is a rich man. This man was dressed well and ate well. He wore expensive clothes and certainly had expensive taste in food as well. Lazarus parked outside this man's home hoping to catch crumbs that might fall from the table (see Mark 7:25-30 and/or Matthew 15:21-28). You couldn't miss someone parked at your gate hoping for a crumb of mercy from you. The contrast of wealth, of power and of lot in life bring to mind the contrasts highlighted in the "Occupy _________" protests. Nameless was much closer to the 1%. Lazarus was certainly among the 99% (and perhaps even among the bottom 1%). When death comes the situations dramatically flip. Lazarus is in Abraham's bosom. Nameless is in a hot place. Nameless still thinks himself to be better than Lazarus. He first asks Lazarus to fetch him a cool drink. When that doesn't work he wants to send Lazarus as an errand boy to warn his brothers. You would think it would go without saying that there is no room service in hell nor no messenger service.
The point of this story of Jesus seems to be at least two-fold.
Fold 1: It matters how we treat others around us. If we live in the lap of luxury while forcing others to lap up dirty puddles things might turn out poorly. The point isn't that we earn or merit heaven. God has always had a soft spot for widows, orphans and aliens. We would do well to care for those for whom God cares. Stepping over a starving indigent as you make your way well-fed into the world is the wrong foot to get started on.
Fold 2: We have all we need of God's self-revelation in the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament). Jesus came to fulfill the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (see Luke 24:44). If the Law and the Prophets aren't enough we have an even more clear depiction of God's heart and desires in Jesus. If that weren't enough (as nameless asserts) we have Jesus risen from the dead. We have no excuses for missing God's desire for us to tend to others in addition to ourselves. In fact, Jesus said that loving God with our whole selves and loving neighbor as ourselves (and Jesus would count Lazarus among our neighbors) is what it means to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
Luther famously said in a note written the day before he died "We are all beggars, this is true." If so, we ought to be looking out for one another a far sight better than nameless did.
God, teach us what you want us to learn from this pointed story of nameless and Lazarus. May we never discover nameless is a cipher for us. Amen.