Jesus Under Your Table
When looking at this particular text the focus immediately shifts to thinking about the state of people in the afterlife. The rich man is in hell ("hades") and Lazarus is in the Old Testament concept of heaven depicted as Abraham's bosom. But there is so much more to this story than who's in heaven and who's in hell. Things are not what they seem. This story highlights the fact that the kingdom of God is the great reversal. This was the radical message that Jesus first preached in the synagogue in Nazareth, a message that consumed the entire span of His ministry. In God's kingdom, the poor hear good news, those held captive go free, the blind receive their sight - it's the year of God's favor! (Lk. 4:18-19).
To Jesus' Jewish audience, this message was unthinkable. It turned their legalistic and graceless religion upside down. The story is designed to shock and it did then and it still does now. In the conventional thinking of the day, the rich, the people who appear to have it together are the blessed by God, and it's the poor who are obviously cursed by God. Good people like the rich man (who probably had an outstanding attendance record at the local synagogue) go to heaven while bad people like the poor beggar (who probably doesn't go to synagogue, and couldn't attend even if he wanted to) go to hell.
The rich man in this story would have been given a pass. The poor man would have been given a different kind of pass, a passing over as if he did even merit enough worth to exist! But Jesus, as he often does, turns conventional wisdom upside down. It's the destitute beggar Lazarus who has nothing and no one but God who is blessed, who is full and satisfied, while the rich man dies empty and now all alone in the agonizing hell of his own making forever.
The rich man was not in hell because he was rich just as poor Lazarus was not in heaven because he was poor. That's not what Jesus is saying. However ...
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