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Bible Commentaries
Luke 16

Lapide's Great Biblical CommentaryLapide's Commentary

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Verses 1-31

CHAPTER 16 Ver. 1. And He said also unto His disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. Having rebuked in three parables those who murmured because He received penitents, Christ now adds a fourth and fifth on almsgiving and frugality, for the proud and avaricious Pharisees refused both pardon to the penitent, and relief to those who were in want. Gloss.

Unto His disciples , i.e. His hearers, those who were His followers, although they had not given up all, as the Apostles.

A steward , οι̉κονόμος , one who had the management of his master's property, and was answerable for the letting of his land.

Hence we learn "that we are not masters of what we possess, but rather stewards of that which is another's." S. Ambrose and Theophylact.

For although as regards men we are the absolute masters of our own possessions, yet with respect to God, who is Lord over all, we are but stewards. Because, whatever we possess was given us for our own moderate use and for the relief of our poorer brethren, and in the day of judgment we shall have to render a strict account of our stewardship.

So S. Paul says, "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful." 1 Corinthians 4:2 . For all our gifts and endowments are not our own, but belong to God who gave them. Hence we are bound to use them not for our own pleasure, but according to His will. Thou hast genius, a keen judgment, a retentive memory, wisdom, eloquence, or the like! Forget not that thou art a steward of these gifts, not a master. Remember that thou hast to give an account of their use, and take heed to use them to the honour and glory of God. Hear S. Chrysostom, "There is an erroneous opinion that all the good things of this life which we possess are our own, and that we are lords over them. But we are as it were guests and strangers, whose departure draweth nigh, and dispensers of another's bounty. We ought therefore to assume the humility and modesty of a steward, for nothing is our own, but all things are the gift of God."

Was accused , διεβλήθθ , denounced, Arabic. Hence the devil διάβολος , is called the "accuser" ( Rev 12:10 ), because he accuses us before God. "We are accused," says the Interlinear, "not only when we do evil, but when we omit to do good." For a steward ought to omit nothing which concerns his own duty or his master's good.

Had wasted his goods , i.e. by carelessness and riotous living. Ver. 2. And he called him, and said unto him, . . . give an account of thy stewardship , i.e. of how much thou hast received and how thou hast expended it, for thou mayest be no longer steward.

So Christ saith, unto every one in the hour of death, "Give an account of thy stewardship. Give an account of thy life, of thy goods, and of thy talents, whether thou hast used them to promote the glory of God and the salvation of thyself and thy fellow-men."

Climacus relates that a monk, who was afterwards abbot, saw in a dream, the first night he entered the monastery, certain men who demanded of him the payment of one hundred pounds of gold. Whereupon for the space of three years he gave himself up to obedience and mortification, and at the end of that time was told that ten pounds had been subtracted from his debt. For thirteen years longer he continued to practise still greater austerities, and then messengers were sent from God to say that all his debt was forgiven. The same writer has also something terrible to say about the abbot Stephen, who had for forty years lived a holy life of fasting and prayer. This man, the day before he died, fell into a trance, and was heard as if in colloquy with an unseen judge, denying at one time the accusations against him, at another time pleading guilty to the charges, and praying for mercy. Terrible indeed was the spectacle of this invisible and stern judgment. Ver. 3. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? The steward acknowledges the justice of the accusation. He had wasted his master's goods, henceforward he must labour or beg for his living. The one thing he was unable, and the other he was ashamed to do. In his distress, he knows not which way to turn. Truly, St. Chrysostom says, "A slothful life is powerless in action." Symbolically, when life is past, no compunction can, as it were by digging, prepare the soul for fruit; whilst to beg, after the manner of the foolish virgins, is not only disturbing, but vain and useless. Gloss. Ver. 4. I am resolved what to do , &c. 1 will give each one of my lord's debtors a bond to show that they owe less than they are actually indebted, so that in return for my kindness and dishonesty, they may entertain me when I am deprived of my stewardship. Vers. 5 and 6. How much owest thou unto my Lord? And he said, an hundred measures of oil . Greek βάτος , in the Vulgate cadus, the tenth part of an homer. Leviticus 27:16 , and Ezekiel 45:2 .

And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fourscore. Greek γζάμμα , i.e. "cautio" or bond, or as the Vulgate renders it "obligatio." The meaning is, "Take back thy bond, wherein thou didst acknowledge that thou owest one hundred measures of oil. Tear it up and write another, confessing to a debt of fifty only, and divide the other fifty between me and thee." Ver. 7. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. The κόζος which was the same size as the homer, contained ten ephahs. See .

"To me," says S. Augustine ( Quæst. Evang. Lib. ii 34), "the meaning of the passage seems this; that whatever the Jews do for the priests and Levites, should be more liberally provided for in the Church; that whereas they give a tenth, Christians should give a half, as Zaccheus gave, not of his crops, but of his goods; or at least that they should give two tenths, and thus exceed the payments of the Jews." Ver. 8. And the lord commended the unjust steward because he had done wisely. The landlord, not the Lord Jesus, as Erasmus holds. The lord praised not the action, for it was dishonest, but the prudence, the cunning craft of the steward, just as we often admire, not indeed a crime, but the cleverness shown in contriving it.

The children of this world are in their generation, i.e. after their kind, in worldly matters, or as Himmel understands it, amongst their fellow-men, wiser than the children of light, i.e. than those who are followers of Christ. Very wisely has some one said, "In worldly matters we are philosophers, as to our spiritual affairs, fools; in earthly things we are lynx-eyed, but in heavenly we are moles."

The children of this world, says S. Augustine ( Lib. ii . de Genesi ) are wiser in providing for their future; and very naturally so, because the desire of earthly pleasure and enjoyment is strong in man, but the aspirations of his soul are blunted and weakened, partly because of the body, partly from love of earthly things. Hence those that are led by the flesh are more active and energetic than those who are led by the spirit, inasmuch as spiritual things, being invisible, produce but little effect on the minds of men.

The parable was directed against the avarice of the Pharisees. We are taught by it to use our riches not for our own selfish ends, but for the relief of our poorer brethren. For Christ bids us all remember that we are but stewards of God's good gifts, and therefore bound to use them so that we may give a good account of our stewardship, and obtain our due reward. In this sense the unjust steward is held up as an example, and not because of his injustice and fraud.

Hence S. Augustine, as already referred to, considers that Christ reasons thus, "If this steward could so wisely provide for this life, much more ought we to be solicitous for the life to come." And again, "If this steward, unjust as he proved himself to be, was praised for his wisdom, much more shall we receive praise of God, if by our almsgiving we injure none, but benefit many." And he goes on to say, "If a wrongdoer received praise from his lord, how much more pleasing are they to the Lord God, who do all in accordance with His will. So from the parable of the unjust judge Christ took occasion to speak of God as judge, although between the two no comparison was possible."

We learn then from this parable (1.) That those who are possessed of riches, or any other gift of God, such as health, intellect, and the like, are but stewards of His bounty. (2.) That every one is bound to use his possessions to the honour and glory of God. (3.) And that every one at the day of judgment will have to give account, not only for the sins which he has committed, but also for duties which he has neglected to perform. Such is the general meaning of the parable. Its particular application I will proceed to explain. Ver. 9. And (in like manner) I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. Ye have heard how the unjust steward made his lord's debtors so kindly disposed towards him, that when he was deprived of his stewardship, they were willing to receive him into their houses. In like manner take heed that ye, who have wasted your lord's goods through your misuse of them, by the mammon or the riches of unrighteousness not by robbery and fraud, but in another sense which I will soon explain give to the poor, so that after this life is over, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

Here note that the word unrighteousness has a double signification. In the case of the steward it meant dishonesty and deceit: in our case it has a different meaning, us I shall proceed, to show.

Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, i.e. of riches, which are "unrighteous" in a fourfold sense and from a fourfold cause.

1. Because riches are often amassed through unrighteousness, i.e . through fraud, usury, and the like of oneself or one's ancestors. Hence S. Jerome (Ep. 150) says every rich man is either himself unrighteous or else the heir of an unrighteous man, and although he may not be ignorant of the evil-doings of his ancestors, yet he can scarcely be expected to know to whom restitution should be made. Therefore he is bound to make such restitution as lies in his power, by giving to the poor. And commenting on S. Matt. vi. the same Father goes on to say, Riches are called Mammon because they are acquired through unrighteousness, taking mammon to be derived from מן , min, and מנה , mona, i.e . violence, from the root ינה , iana, the meaning being "to exercise force." But the real derivation seems to be from טמן taman, to hide or conceal; for riches and money are wont to be hidden.

2. They are unrighteous in the sense of faithless and deceptive, for they are not to be depended upon, but often desert one man and pass on to another.

3. They are called the mammon of unrighteousness, because in their endeavour to become rich men are guilty of fraud, dishonesty, unrighteous dealing, and every kind of sin.

4. And again, they are unrighteous, because wicked and ungodly men esteem them of more value than the heavenly treasures. S. Augustine ( serm. 35 De Verbis Domini ). Hence we may understand Christ as saying, "Ye rich and avaricious men have made money your god, but be ye well assured that it is unrighteous, i.e . vain and deceptive. Break up your idol, therefore, and give to the poor, and God will recompense you with eternal riches." See S. Matthew 6:24 .

That when ye fail , when life is over and your riches are no longer at your disposal, or according to the Syriac version, when it, i.e. mammon, fails you.

They may receive you. The poor, i.e . those whom you have made your friends by the right use of your riches. For they, if they are worthy of heaven, will by their prayers and by a communication of their merits make a way for you to enter therein: but if, on the contrary, they are unworthy of so great a blessing, you will be received into heaven because of your almsgiving, for what is given to the poor is accepted of Christ.

Christ seems, here to be speaking of the poor who lead godly lives, who are poor as far as earthly possessions are concerned, but rich in understanding and in spiritual grace. Let not the rich then think that they are conferring, but rather that they are receiving benefits from such as these, for they give gold, to receive in return heaven. Hence S. Gregory (Moral. xxii. 14) says, "Almsgiving is not so much the relieving the necessities of the poor as the offering of gifts to those who hereafter will receive us into everlasting habitations."

Learn therefore, that heaven is the inheritance of the poor, not for their own possession, but rather that they may introduce therein those who have been their benefactors. They are therefore the door-keepers of heaven, for "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (see S. Mat 5:3 ), and this their blessedness is not of their own deserving, but the special gift of God. So S. Augustine ( lib . ii . q. 38 Quæst. Evang .) says, "They receive them not as of right but by the permission of Him who counselled them to make themselves friends, and who deigns to look upon Himself as being fed, clothed, entertained and visited in the person of the least of His followers."

"Everlasting habitations," says Theophylact, "are in Christ ordained for the poor, wherein they may receive those who have given them liberal alms out of that which God has committed to their trust." Happy indeed is the exchange, for earthly things become heavenly. Hence almsgiving is the most skilful of arts, for it does not build us an earthly tabernacle, but provides us with eternal life." S. Chrysostom. Ver. 10 . He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much. By "that which is least" we must understand earthly possessions as distinguished from the "much" of spiritual gifts. That ye may not be deprived of your heavenly stewardship, or rather that ye may be entrusted therewith, take heed rightly to administer your temporal affairs, and especially to give alms to the poor, according to the purpose of God. For so Christ explains His words in the next verse. In a similar sense S. Paul writes, "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (1 Timothy 3:5 .) Christ seems here to be reproaching the Pharisees with unfaithfulness in the disposal of their riches, and in the interpretation of the law, and also with being little worthy of the position they held (see S. Matt. v. and xxiii.), for from ver. 14 it is clear that these things were spoken against them. Ver. 11 . If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? If ye have made a wrong use of this world's fleeting possessions ( 1Ti 6:7 ), who will entrust to your care the things which are lasting, and which pertain unto the kingdom of God? Theophylact and many others. Ver. 12 . And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own? The wording of this verse is different, but the sense is the same as that of the preceding. The mammon which in the verse above Christ called unrighteous, he here calls "another man's." For temporal possessions are another's:

1. Because they are in their nature totally different from the nature of man. They are of the earth, given to man for his use in this life, to revert again to the earth after death.

2. They are another's as regards God, for we are not absolute masters of what we possess but administrators only, bound to dispose of our goods according to His will. So Titus says, "He describes much riches as that which is another man's, because to abound in riches is, considering human nature, foreign to men. For if any man possesses them, they are external to him, and as it were, an accident." "They are," says S. Ambrose, "foreign to the nature of man, for they have no continuance, they were neither born with us, nor can they follow us when we die." S. Augustine also ( Quæst. Evang. ii. 35) "He calls earthly endowments another's, for no man can carry them away with him at his death." "We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" ( 1Ti 6:7 ); and Euthymius: "Earthly riches are called another's for they do not remain long with their possessor."

Christ reproves avarice, and shows that he who loves money cannot love God: therefore the Apostles, if they would love Him, must despise riches. S. Jerome. But the better interpretation is one which I am about to give.

That which is your own. "Christ calls heavenly riches ours says Euthymius, "because, as Theophylact explains, 'our citizenship is in heaven.' For man was created in the image of God, but wealth and earthly possessions are not ours, for there is nothing divine therein. But to enjoy divine blessings, and to partake in the nature of God, is ours."

But you will say, Men are wont to value that which is their own, more than that which is the property of another. Why then does Christ here imply the contrary?

I answer that the force of our Lord's argument is seen: 1. If we look to the meaning of the parable, If ye have not been faithful in earthly things, how will ye be so in heavenly, and who will dare to commit such things to your trust? and 2. From the parable itself. Men are as a rule more careful in their management of the affairs of others than of their own, for many reasons, but chiefly because they are bound in justice to make good any losses which may have been incurred by their carelessness, and if careless may even be suspected of dishonesty or theft; whereas for their own losses, or for the mismanagement of their own concerns, they are responsible to no one.

True, therefore, is the argument of Christ, If ye have not been faithful in earthly things, which are another's, God will not give you those heavenly treasures which are rightly your own. For he who makes a wrong use of that which belongs to another deserves to lose that which is his own. For, as Dionysius (Denis) the Carthusian astutely remarks, "In the former verse, Christ spoke of the good things of this life, 'who will trust, or commit,' because an account will have to be rendered of their use. But of the good things of the heavenly country, he says, 'who will give,' for we shall not be called upon to account for these, because once given they are everlastingly our own."

For the following verse, see S. Matthew 6:24 . Ver. 14. And the Pharisees also derided Him , εμυκτήζιζον , "turned up their noses," sneered at Him. Ver. 15. And He said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men, i.e. make outwardly a show of justice, whereas God knoweth your hearts to be full of all uncleanness. For that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

Your pretended zeal for the service of God, which is held in admiration of the common people, is hateful to Him who seeth the foulness and corruption of your hearts. For my explanation of verses 16 to 19, see S. Matthew 11:12 ; Matthew 5:18 ; and Matthew 19:9 . Ver. 19. There was a certain rich man. You ask, Is this a parable or a true history? I answer, A history!

1. Because Christ does not call it a parable.

2. Because the poor man is named Lazarus, and the rich man, according to a Hebrew tradition quoted by Euthymius, is called a native of Nice.

3. Because the torments of the rich man are related as an actual reality.

4. Because in memory of Lazarus many hospitals for those suffering from leprosy and such like diseases are called by his name.

5. Because with the exception of Justin, Theophylact, and Eucherius, all the Fathers are of my opinion.

Euthymius infers from the mention made of Abraham and Moses in verses 24 and 31, that this rich man was a Jew, and mentions a Hebrew tradition to the effect that he was living in the time of Christ, who gave his history as that of a well-known man, in order the more to impress his hearers, and to teach them to despise the good things of this present life.

Was clothed in purple and in fine linen. The one denoting luxury and pride, and other softness and effeminacy. There are some, says S. Gregory, who do not think that extravagance in apparel is a sin. But if it were not so, the Word of God would not have so directly stated that Dives, who was tormented in hell, had been clothed in purple and fine linen. No one seeks fine clothing but out of vainglory, in order to appear better than his fellow-men.

And fared sumptuously every day. The Greek ευ̉φζαινόμενος signifies both gladness and feasting. So Dives, not content with the richness of his banquet, sought to add to the pleasures of the feast the delights of music, dancing, and whatever else could add to his enjoyment. Forgetful of the future, perhaps not believing that there was any future at all, he lived without God, a follower of him who bids men "eat, drink, and enjoy themselves, for death makes an end of all delights." He lived as they live who "take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ. They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave" ( Job 21:12-13 ).

Hence S. Gregory teaches that we cannot indulge in revelling without sin. For when the body is given up to the enjoyment of the feast, the heart is led away to empty rejoicing. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play" ( Exo 32:6 ).

Conversation generally follows after a feast, for when the appetite is satisfied, the tongue is let loose. Hence Dives is fitly described as desiring water to cool his tongue, for feasting ministers to gluttony, wantonness, pride, evil speaking, envy, and many other vices. Ver. 20. And there was a certain beggar , a poor man, according to the Arabic. A beggar, poor in earthly possessions, but rich in virtues and in patience; named Lazarus.

"The mention of the name," says S. Ambrose, "shows this to be a narrative, not a parable;" and S. Cyril tells us, "that according to the tradition of the Jews, there was at that time a certain poor man at Jerusalem, by name Lazarus, apparently so called because he was laid at the rich man's gate to pray for the help which he needed so much."

For Lazarus is in Hebrew לצזר , laazar, "ad adjuvandum." Hence S. Chrysostom and Augustine explain the name as meaning helped, or rather one that ought to be helped, for Lazarus, by drawing attention to his sores, as good as exclaimed, ye see my misery, help me in my wretchedness.

Was laid . ε̉βέβλητο , was placed by bearers at the gates of the rich or the entrances of the temples as a breathing corpse, bereft of the power of motion. "He lay," says Titus, "each day and every day in abject misery, neglected, counted as nothing, uncared for, and unprotected." "So that," says S. Chrysostom, "the rich man, as he went out and as he came in, could look upon him, and see his miserable state." "By which things," as S. Gregory teaches ( Hom. 40), "our Lord has explained His two judgments, the greater condemnation of the unpitying Dives, and the greater acceptance and reward of the suffering Lazarus. For how great," he asks, "do ye suppose were the temptations which the poor and suffering beggar had to resist, when hungry and diseased he saw the rich man enjoying health and the delights of life? When overcome by pain and cold, he beheld him clothed in purple and fine linen and rejoicing in the good things of this life. When brought low by the nature of his ailment, and in need, he saw him in full prosperity, yet regardless of another's wants. What a storm of temptation, may we, my brethren, think there must have been in the heart of the beggar, to whom either ill poverty or sickness, alone would have been a sufficient punishment! But that he might be the more tried, he was subjected to both evils, and saw, moreover, that whilst the rich man was surrounded by flattering friends and supporters, he had no one to visit him in his misery and want."

Full of sores. Not only poor but diseased είλκωμένος , covered with ulcers. Hence many think that Lazarus was a leper, and therefore look upon him as the patron saint of those afflicted with leprosy, who are called Lazars, and their hospitals Lazarettos, after his name. Ver. 21. And dogs came and licked his sores. Francis Lucas thinks that they did this as if feeding on a dead body, and that they thus caused the poor sufferer much pain, for, S. Chrysostom adds, "he had not the strength to drive them away."

But in another sense the dogs may be considered as cleansing and healing the poor man's sores. Hence S. Chrysostom says, "The wild animals in compassion lick the sores which no one, much less the rich glutton, cared to cleanse. For the rich, unmindful of the condition of their fellowmen, laugh at misery, and turn away from those whom they ought to pity." S. Ambrose.

S. Chrysostom ( hom. De Lazaro ), enumerates nine grievous ills to which the poor man was subjected:

1. A poverty so extreme, that he could not even obtain the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table.

2. A disease so grievous and so weakening, that he was unable to drive away the dogs which gathered round him.

3. Desertion by all, even those who ought to have aided him.

4 The constant sight of the rich man's happiness, for his bodily pains and his grief of mind were increased by the knowledge, that they who were possessed of every enjoyment had no thought or consideration for him.

5. The hard heartedness of the rich man, who passed him by, without a kind word or look.

6. His loneliness, for "it is pleasant to have a companion in misfortunes."

7. Uncertainty as to the future, for since the coming of Christ, faith in the resurrection of the dead is a wonderful support in affliction.

8. The long continuance and constancy of his sufferings.

9. The loss of reputation, for many thought that his sufferings were a direct punishment for some great crime. But, like another Job, he bore all his trials with fortitude and an undaunted mind. Hence God has set forth Lazarus, Job, Tobias and S. Lydwina, whose sufferings are recorded by Sirius, to be as long as the world last examples of patience to all who are sick and afflicted Ver. 22 . And it came to pass that the beggar died , of disease, misery, and want.

And was carried, i.e. his soul was conducted with honour for the soul after death needs no actual carrying. Observe here the office of the angels; for S. Chrysostom says, if we need guides then we are changing from one country to another, how much shall we need some to lead the way when the disembodied soul is on its passage to futurity. He further adds, "Ye saw the poor man at the rich, man's gate: ye see him now in Abraham's bosom; ye saw him surrounded by dogs: ye see him in company of the angels; ye saw him poor, famished, struggling: ye see him happy, filled with good things, and possessed of the prize. Ye saw his labours: ye see his reward."

Into Abraham's bosom. In order that, beholding Lazarus entertained as a guest by Abraham, the rich man might be confounded at his own want of hospitality. Euthymius. Abraham was hospitable: that the sight of Lazarus might rebuke the rich man's want of hospitality. Abraham was wont to watch for wayfarers, to bring them to his house; but the rich man despised him who lay within his gate, and though the poor man was daily ready to his hand, he used him not as a treasure by means of which he might obtain salvation. S. Chrysostom ( hom. De Lazaro .)

You ask, What is Abraham's bosom, and where situated? S. Augustine ( lib. iv . De Anima ) replies, "It is the place of rest in which are received after death the souls of all who are imitators of the faith and piety of Abraham. The place which before Christ was the 'limbus patrum,' but now is heaven, the paradise of the blessed. Hence the Church sings, "Martin rejoices in Abraham's bosom Martin, here poor and mean, enters heaven abounding in wealth."

And S. Augustine, treating of the death of Nebridius ( Confess. lib. ix.) says, "He lives in Abraham's bosom, wherever that may be, there my Nebridius lives." And the Church prays that God will receive the souls of the departed in Abraham's bosom, and give them eternal rest, "as thou hast promised to Abraham and his seed for ever."

It is called Abraham's bosom. 1. Because children rest quiet in the bosom of their parents, and all the faithful are called children of Abraham, who excelled all in faith and holiness. Hence "in the limbus of the fathers" he was chief

Abraham's bosom, therefore, says Ambrose, is a certain haven of rest, and a sacred retreat.

In the Greek κολπος , in the Latin "sinus," because retired or secret. S. Augustine.

Because this blessedness was promised to Abraham and in him to all the faithful Genesis 22:18 .

3. Because Abraham was remarkable for his hospitality. Hence it was fitting that the poor and friendless Lazarus, whom the inhospitable rich man had rejected, should be received into his bosom. For, says Chrysologus, the kindness which he showed to God made him chief of the heavenly banquet, and because he received two men with God at an earthly feast ( Gen 18:8 ), he will receive the people of the East and West at a heavenly.

Hence the soul of the poor man was carried, not into Abraham's presence only, but into Abraham's bosom, in order that it might receive comfort and refreshment. S. Chrysostom. And again, Because Lazarus when on earth, was poor and despised, in heaven he became honoured and rich. Thus, solely on account of the ills which he suffered, Lazarus obtained a reward like to that of the Patriarch, and this, not because he had pity on the poor, or had relieved the oppressed, or had done some good thing, but because he bore patiently all the ills he had to endure.

The rich man also died, and was buried . "The man who had so buried his soul in drunkenness and self-indulgence that it was useless and dead within him," says S. Chrysostom; who goes on to give a touching description of the change which had now come over Dives. "Consider," he says, "the pomp in which he had lived, the flatterers and friends which were wont to seek his company, and the luxury which had surrounded him: and now all had departed. Everywhere nothing but dust and ashes, lamentation and weeping; no one to help him, no one to call back his soul. Of what avail were his riches, now that he was taken away from all his dependents and left deserted, defenceless, and neglected, left alone to bear in his own person an intolerable punishment?"

In hell , i.e. "in purgatory," says James Faber, who thinks that the rich man, after suffering the purgatorial fires, was saved. But others understand here the place of the damned, and hold that the rich man had received his condemnation, an interpretation which is supported by the after narrative, particularly by the 26th verse; and indeed, this is the proper signification of the word "hell," which in the Greek, άδης , from the primative particle α , and ίδειν , to see means a place of darkness, where there is neither seeing nor light.

But you will say, We do not read that the rich man sinned, save inasmuch as he fared sumptuously every day, which as a venial sin was deserving of purgatory, but not of hell.

I answer, that although to fare sumptuously is a venial sin, yet if it leads to evil and to excess, especially if it is productive of selfishness and a disregard of the poor, it becomes mortal, and this must happen to him who is a slave to his appetite, for as I have said (ver. 19), a man cannot at the same time serve his belly and his God. The rich man therefore was damned on account of these sins, and chiefly because of his neglect of Lazarus. For he was bound, under peril of committing mortal sin, to minister to the need of the poor man, and since he did not do so, he became liable to the punishment of hell.

"For it is robbery," says S. Chrysostom "to keep what we have received, and to refuse to others a share in our abundance." Again he adds, "the rich man was tormented, not because he was rich, but because he had no compassion." So also S. Gregory of Nyssa.

Hear also S. Hieronymus ( Epist. 34, ad Julianum ): "The flames of hell received the purple-clad Dives. But the poor and suffering beggar, whose sores the dogs licked, who scarcely could maintain himself on the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table, is carried into Abraham's bosom, and comforted by the Patriarch with a parent's care. For it is difficult, nay impossible, to enjoy both present and future possessions; to fill here the belly, there the soul; to pass from delights to delights; to be first in both worlds, and to appear glorious both in heaven and on earth."

Hence S. Basil ( serm. 1, De Jejunio ) says, "Beware of luxury, for the rich man is tormented, not because of his evil deeds, but because of his self-indulgent life." For they who are indulgent to themselves are harsh and unmerciful to others. They take away what the poor man needs to minister to their own unnecessary enjoyments, as this glutton did, not only from Lazarus, but also from the other poor. For, adds S. Chrysostom, "If he had no pity on him whom time after time, as he went out of his house and returned to it again, he was compelled to see lying at his gate, on whom has he ever had compassion? He therefore was content that they should die of hunger, cold, and disease. So to this very day there are some rich men who are liberal in their banquetings, illiberal to the poor who spend pounds on one feast alone, but grudge a penny for the relief of those in want. Thus they who always study themselves, neglect others, and consume everything on their own pleasures. For gluttony is a master passion and says, "All is for me, nothing for thee."

He lift up his eyes. The eyes not of his body, but of his mind. God showed the rich man Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, that, says S. Chrysostom, "he might be the more tormented, not only from the nature of his punishment, but also from seeing the estimation in which Lazarus was held. For as the sufferings of Lazarus, when a prey to so many evils, were increased by the sight of the rich man abounding in good things, so now the sight of Lazarus, in his turn comforted, was to Dives an increase of misery." Hence S. Gregory ( hom. 40) and after him the Gloss says: "We must believe that before the judgment the wicked see the just at rest, and are tormented by their happiness, and also that the just behold the wicked in torment, that their joy may be increased as they look upon the evils from which they have been mercifully preserved." Ver. 24. And he cried "cried" because his great punishment evoked a great cry. S. Chrysostom.

And said, Father Abraham. He calls Abraham father, because he was a Jew, and therefore a descendant of Abraham. He did not address Lazarus, says Theophylact, because he was ashamed, and moreover thought that Lazarus was still mindful of the evils he had suffered at his hands.

Send Lazarus . "0 miserable man," says S. Chrysostom, "thou art mistaken. Abraham can receive him, he cannot send him! Behold the rich man has now need of the poor man. So when death draws nigh, and the spectacle of life is over, when the marks of riches and of poverty are laid aside, all are judged according to their works, according as they are possessed of true riches, or are poor in the sight of God."

And again, by a sudden change a change which is graphically described by the prophet (see Isa 65:13 ) the rich man becomes the suppliant of the poor man, and he who was wont to pass by Lazarus as he lay nigh at hand, invokes his aid now that he is afar off.

That he may dip the tip of his finger in water , &c. His tongue, which was inflamed with the desires of gluttony and of boasting, says S. Chrysostom (and of gossiping, adds the Interlinear), now burns with the fires of hell, for wherein that a man sinneth, by the same also shall he be punished. Wisdom 11:16.

For I am tormented , &c, by unspeakable torments, both by the flaming fire and a raging thirst.

Hear S. Chrysostom ( serm. 124): "If thou art surrounded on all sides by the fires of hell, why dost thou desire only the cooling of thy tongue? Because, he answers, the tongue which insulted the poor man, and refused him relief, suffers the more in the fiery torment:" and Salvian adds ( Lib. iii ad. Eccles. ), "How willingly would the rich man have sacrificed all his possessions to obtain release from his endless misery?" Nay more, he would have given up everything for one hour's respite from the flames. Because, can we imagine that he who prayed that Lazarus might be sent so great a journey to bear but one drop of water, would have begrudged any price to purchase rest?

"Fitly," says S. Augustine ( serm. 110 De tempore ) "did he ask a drop of the man who asked of him a crumb, and inasmuch as he loved riches, he met with no compassion. Ever foolish, too late compassionate, he wished his brethren to be warned but obtained nothing by his request." And again ( Serm .227), "Be warned by the example of the luxurious rich man, whose dogs Lazarus fed by his sores, though he was denied the crumbs which fell from that rich man's table. But after a short time their lots were changed. The poor man, because of his poverty, obtained happiness; the rich man, on account of his riches, punishment. The one is carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom, the other consigned to the depths of hell. The whole body of the rich man is consumed by the fire, yet his tongue suffers still greater torment. Doubtlessly because by its proud speaking he had despised the poor man. For the tongue which is unwilling to order the relief of the poor, is subjected to greater suffering hereafter. 0 rich man, how canst thou ask for a drop of water, when thou wouldest not give a crumb from thy table? Hadst thou been willing to give, thou mightest now with justice make thy request." And again, "By a just judgment in thy turn thou sufferest, for judgment without mercy is the reward of the unmerciful."

And S. Gregory ( hom. 40): He who was unwilling to give the suffering beggar the least crumb that fell from his table, in hell was feign to seek, if it were but the least drop of water." And S. Basil says, "The rich man is worthily recompensed: for the tuneful lyre, wailing; for drink, the intense longing for a drop."

You ask, How can the soul of the rich man be said to have a tongue, or the soul of Lazarus a finger; or how can the one feel thirst, and be tormented in the flames, or seek to be relieved by the finger of the other?

1. Tertullian erroneously thinks that the human soul is corporeal, and that it therefore has its tongue, finger, and other members.

2. Hugo Œtherianus supposes that the disembodied soul has the semblance of a body, like the reflection of any object in a mirror; and John Huartus, a physician, is of the same opinion.

3, But I hold that Christ was here speaking after the manner of a parable, and wished to place before the eyes of his hearers the punishments and rewards which men will receive at the day of judgment, because we only can form an opinion of the punishments of the soul through the punishments of the body; and further, he wished to show that the rich man was punished suitably to his sin.

Some add that the fires of hell produce in the souls of the damned torments, similar to those which they would suffer if they were still in the body. For why should it be thought impossible for God to cause the soul to suffer without the body what it would have suffered if it had continued to be united with the body? Especially as every feeling which affects the soul whilst it is in the body, is of the soul, and not of the body: for it is the soul and not the body which feels, and sees and hears. See 2 Corinthians 4:16 . Hence Francis Lucas says, that we are to understand that the soul of the rich man suffered just as if his body had been actually given up to be tormented by the flames, for the soul is afflicted by imaginations derived from the body.

In short, all these things set forth, after the manner of a parable, the extreme misery and torment of the rich man; and also that the blessed are not able to render any aid to the damned, nor indeed have they the wish to do so, inasmuch as they are persuaded that this would be contrary to the fixed purpose of God. Furthermore, the damned do not dare to ask this aid, for they on their part know that they are separated by a great and impassable gulf from those who have entered into rest.

Hence Abraham feels no compassion for the misery of the rich man, because he recognises in his punishment the justice of God. For the sight of the punishment of the wicked does not lessen the happiness of the just, because since they can feel no compassion for the sufferings which they see, their joy will not on this account be diminished. Gloss. And S. Gregory ( hom. 40) says, The souls of the just, although in the goodness of their nature they feel compassion, yet after they have been united to the righteousness of their Author, are constrained by such great uprightness as not to be moved with compassion towards the reprobate.

Ver. 25 . But Abraham said, Son, remember , &c. "See," says S. Chrysostom, "the kindness of the Patriarch. He calls him son, yet he gives no aid to him, who had deprived himself of cure." "For," adds S. Gregory of Nyssa, "because he had no pity, he is not heard. Neither Abraham nor God has compassion on his prayer."

Remember that thou . . . receivedst thy good things. Thou, when thou wast faring sumptuously, wast unwilling to bestow a thought on Lazarus, or on God, or on heaven or hell; but now call to mind thy feastings, which have led to thy condemnation.

"For," says S. Gregory ( hom. 40), "to increase his punishment, his knowledge and memory are preserved. He knows Lazarus, whom he had despised, and remembers his brethren whom he had left, that by the sight of the glory of one, whom he had despised, and by anxiety about the punishment of those whom he had loved to no purpose, he would be the more tormented."

Thy good things. Thine, i.e. earthly things, which thou didst consider true riches, things for which alone thou didst live in utter neglect of higher concerns. "Evil men," says S. Gregory, "receive in this life good things, for they consider transitory happiness to be their sole joy."

2. Thine, i.e. the reward due to thy scanty deserts. "For we are taught," says S. Chrysostom, "that the rich man was rewarded in this world for any good which he had done, and Lazarus punished for any evil which he might have committed. It follows therefore that Lazarus was comforted, because of his patience and goodness, which had not been regarded in this life, and the rich man tormented because of his sin and neglect of God, which had not been punished in this life." "So," S. Gregory says, "the fire of poverty purged the poor man's sins, and this world's fleeting happiness rewarded the rich man for any good which he had done."

3. Thine. Thou in this life didst receive thy portion of good, therefore there was nothing in store for thee in the future; but Lazarus received evil things, therefore happiness in the next world was his due. For thus God in his justice apportions heavenly blessings to the elect, but earthly benefits to the wicked and those who know Him not. Wherefore, let him who abounds in earthly riches and earthly honour, fear lest he may be deprived of them in the life to come: and let him who has none of these enjoyments in this world, look for them in heaven.

This truth Christ revealed to S. Catherine of Sienna, in a vision of which mention has been already made. (See chap. vi. 24).

Behold an image of eternity, the cross leading to the crown, but pleasure to destruction.

On these words of Abraham, S. Bernard exclaims, "Awake, ye drunken, and weep, for God is fearful in His judgments on the sons of men. Can it be that the rich man was in torment, solely because he received good things in his lifetime? Clearly on this account alone!

"For we may not think that we were cast out of paradise because of God's punishment of sin, in order that the wit of men might prepare for themselves another paradise here upon earth.

"Man was born to labour; if he refuses labour, he frustrates the purpose for which he was brought into the world, and how will he answer him who has ordained labour as the lot of man?"

He presses his argument yet further, and adds, "What shall we say to this? If in the final judgment misery takes the place of rejoicing, are not ills to be preferred to the good things of this life? For it is clear that the one are not really good nor the other actually evil The truer then is the opinion of Solomon, 'It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting.'" Ecclesiastes 7:2 .

And likewise Lazarus evil things. Sickness, poverty, and its attendant ills, which the worldly-minded consider evils, but which the followers of God account good, inasmuch as they conduce to holiness here, and happiness hereafter. S. Thomas, Chrysostom, and others.

But now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. By many a misery, which in thy lifetime thou didst little regard. Ver. 26. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed. (Chaos, in the Vulgate). Perhaps the rich man, as an increase to his torment was shown as in a vision the heavenly abode of the blessed, whither Abraham and Lazarus were to ascend a little after the death of Christ.

Hear S. Cyprian ( De Ascens. Dom .): "The wicked will for ever dwell amidst devouring fire. There the rich man will burn without any one to cool his tongue with even one drop of water. Every evil lust and passion will have its appropriate punishment, and despair will add to the miseries of the lost. God will then have no pity on the penitent. Too late will be their confession, for when the door is shut, in vain will those who are without oil seek to enter. From thence there is no release. Christ once descended into hell; He will not go thither again. The condemned will not again see God in their dark dwelling. The sentence passed will be irrevocable, the judgment of condemnation stands changeless and fixed for all eternity."

Hence S. Bernard says, "Thou in the midst of hell must be expecting that salvation, which is to be won in the midst of our earthly existence. But how canst thou imagine that thou wilt have in the midst of eternal burnings the power of obtaining pardon, when the time of pardon has passed away? There is no offering for sin for thee, who art dead in sins. The Son of God will not be crucified again. He died, He does not die again. His blood, which was poured out on the earth, does not flow down to hell. All sinners have drunk thereof on earth. There is none which the devils and the wicked who are their companions can claim for the extinguishing of the flames which torment them."

Mystically : S. Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Theophylact understand the gulf to mean the fixed and final separation of the just and unjust. See Revelation 21:5-8 , S. Matthew 5:25 .

Hence S. Gregory, and after him the Interlinear, says, "Between Dives and Lazarus there is a gulf, because after death no man can change his reward, the damned cannot exchange lots with the blessed, nor the blessed with those who are lost."

"The gulf," says Titus, "indicates the difference between the just and unjust for as their desires and wishes were opposed, so now their condition is immutable." "It also," adds S. Augustine ( lib. ii . Quæst. Evang .), "shows to those who are in prison, that by the unchangeableness of the divine sentence, no merciful aid can be rendered to them by the righteous, however much they may wish to give it."

Allegorically . Lazarus lying at the rich man's gate represents Christ, who by the lowliness of His Incarnation condescended to the case of the proud Jews, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table, i.e ., seeking from them the least works of righteousness, which at their own table, that is, when they had it in their power, they were too proud to perform, which works, although very slight, they would do, not out of the set purpose of a good life, but occasionally and by chance, like as crumbs are wont to fall from the table.

The sores are the sufferings of our Lord, which from weakness of the flesh, He deigned to undergo for us. The dogs are the Gentiles, accounted by the Jews sinners and unclean, who throughout the world softly and devoutly lick the wounds of Christ in the sacrament of His body and blood. Abraham's bosom, the hidden presence of God the Father, into which our Lord was received after His passion. Augustine ( lib. ii . Quæst. Evang .) And again, symbolically , he goes on to say: "By the rich man we may understand the proud Jews; the purple and fine linen are the grandeur of the kingdom; the sumptuous feasting is the boasting of the Law; Lazarus, i.e . 'assisted,' some Gentile or publican, who is all the more relieved, as he presumes less on the abundance of his resources; the dogs are those most wicked men, who praise the evil works which another groans over and detests in himself; the five brethren are the Jews, bound by the five books of the Law."

In like manner S. Gregory ( Hom. 40) says, "Lazarus represents the Gentile people. The bursting forth of his sores is the confession of sin. The crumbs were denied him, for the proud Jews disdained to admit the Gentiles to the knowledge of the Law. The dogs are the preachers, who by their teaching, as it were, touch with their tongue the wounds of the soul. Abraham's bosom, the secret rest, where the rich man sees Lazarus. For the unbelievers see the faithful abiding in rest above them but afar off, because they cannot attain thither by their merits, and they burn in their tongues because they held in their mouth the words of the Law, but kept them not."

And again, "Lazarus represents an apostolic man, poor in speech but rich in faith. The crumbs are the doctrines of the faith. The rich man, some heretic who abounds in eloquent discourses for all such have a talkative tongue, but a foolish and profitless soul." Ver. 27. Then he said, I pray thee, therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him , &c. Probably these words are spoken as the former ones, after the manner of a parable (see verse 24). For it is a very common occurrence in everyday life that those who have met with misfortunes wish to warn their brethren against incurring a similar fate. But of one thing worldly-minded men, who ridicule or else think lightly of the pains of hell, may be assured, no one has ever returned from thence to tell us what their sufferings are.

That thou wouldest send him. Lazarus again in the body, that he, being known to the brethren, and a witness to be seen of all, might move them to faith and penitence. We are taught therefore that the rich man after his death had need of the aid of him whom in his lifetime he had despised.

Touching the appearances of the spirits of the departed, see S. Augustine ( De cura pro mortuis ); Debrius ( in Magicis ); and Peter Thyræus ( De apparitionibus spirituum ). Ver. 28. That he may testify unto them how grievously I am tormented for my sinful indulgence, and exhort them to repentance and amendment, lest they also come into this place of torment.

You will say that the damned are in utter despair, hating both God and man, cursing everything and every creature, and bearing good will to none how then could Dives have wished that his brethren might escape the torments of hell? I answer

1. The damned do not wish to cause anything good, i.e. any act of natural or supernatural virtue, nor have they the power to do so on account of their despair, and intense hatred of God and all good, but they are able to desire some natural good, for example, that it may be well with their parents or brethren. For this reason S. Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Theophylact, think that the rich man, influenced by the ties of kindred and by family affection, really was anxious for the welfare of his brethren, for nature remains the same even in the damned. The action of Dives therefore was one of nature and not of virtue, and had regard, not to actual good, but to natural good only, as the action of animals in nourishing their young.

2. The rich man was anxious for himself more than for his brethren, for he considered their evil his own, inasmuch as their condemnation would increase his torments, because he was the occasion and the cause of their evil lives.

Thus S. Gregory, Lyranus, and others, Cajetan adds, "Dives asked this out of the pride which fills the hearts of the damned, that if not in his own person, at least in the person of his brethren he might be blessed and exalted."

Hence S. Ambrose says, "This rich man too late begins to be a master, for he had neither time for learning nor teaching." Ver. 29. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the Prophets, i.e. the writings of Moses and the Prophets, which the Scribes and Pharisees read and expound in their synagogues. Ver. 30. And he said, Nay, Father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. He is speaking of his own experience. For as he had been affected, so does he think it will be with his brethren. S. Chrysostom. Titus more clearly writes, "Why does the rich man say this but because he himself had heard the prophets to little purpose, and had looked upon their teaching as untrue? Therefore he conjectures that his brethren similarly regarded them. He as much as says, 'They argue as I once argued. Who has ever given any description of hell who has ever returned thence? But if any one were sent to them from the dead, they would believe him, and give diligent heed to what he had to say.'" Ver. 31. And he said unto him , &c. They will say that Lazarus is a phantom, sent by the spirits of evil to deceive; whereas the writings of Moses and the prophets are inspired, are accepted by the Jews at the rule of faith, according to that which is written, "We have now a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place." 2 Peter 1:19 .

The truth of the Patriarch's answer is proved by the conduct of the Jews, who spoke against the raising of the other Lazarus, and the resurrection of Christ Himself, and refused to believe in Him.

So also Peter, who three years after death was recalled to life by S. Stanislaus, Bishop of Cracow, to testify concerning some land which had been sold by the king, replied to those who asked him concerning the other world, no more than this, "Ye have Moses and the prophets. I have been sent to bear witness, not to preach."

Dives therefore obtained none of his requests, because it is written, "Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard." Proverbs 21:13 .

Morally , we learn from this parable or rather from this history,

1. That God has appointed to each his lot, and has made some rich, some poor. Let each one therefore be content with that station which God has allotted him. Let the poor, by patient endurance of want, and the rich, by the liberal relief of the poor, seek for life and happiness in the world to come. For Christ seems to have spoken this parable to enforce His teaching, "Make to yourselves fiends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations." The rich man was not compassionate, and therefore he was rejected by Abraham and Lazarus.

2. That we must not despise the poor and afflicted, but on the contrary render all the assistance which lies in our power. For S. Gregory ( Hom . 40) says, "The medicine of poverty heals those whom moral infirmity wounds, and often a pearl lies hidden in a dunghill, i.e . holiness and virtue often lie hid in an unclean body, and in abject poverty. And so S. Romula, dying of poverty and paralysis, was carried to heaven by a chorus of angels. He adds, "We find a Lazarus every day if we seek him, and even if we seek him not, we see him. Behold how importunately the poor present themselves, and make demands on us, in their turn to intercede on our behalf. We ought certainly to ask of them, yet they ask of us. Consider, whether we ought to refuse what is demanded of us when those who ask are our patrons."

3. That the rich ought not to boast themselves in their riches, for riches endure but for a time, and death deprives men of their all. Wherefore let them not set their hearts upon their riches, but on God; and let them for the love of God use that wherewith He has prospered them for the benefit of the needy and poor.

Bibliographical Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on Luke 16". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/clc/luke-16.html. 1890.
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