Commentators debate whether Jesus’s story about the rich man and Lazarus is a parable or an actual event that crossed the border between this physical world and the invisible next (Luke 16:19-31).
Regardless, the antagonist of the story is a notable example of a wealthy man who treasured up his riches and ignored the plight of the poor all around him. Dives (pr. die-veez) is the Latin word for wealthy and has become attached through the centuries to the miser of the story, clothed in purple and faring sumptuously each day while this second Lazarus, full of sores, begged for scraps at his gate.
Eventually, both men died, but their circumstances suddenly were exchanged. The rich man’s wealth did not follow him into eternity, for none of it was shared and thus converted into heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21, 1 Peter 1:4). As he passed through death and into eternity, he was instantly made bankrupt. Lazarus, on the other hand, was greatly enriched, simply by entering into the bosom of Abraham to await the final resurrection on Judgment Day. Dives entered into torment, tortured by fire so much that he wished only for a drop of cool water upon his tongue.
Only Abraham could answer his anguished pleas: a great, fixed gulf divided this Hadean holding cell where the righteous dead reclined in Paradise and the wicked dead suffered in Tartarus. No relief would come and Dives learned what wisdom meant: “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be heard” (Proverbs 21:13).
Insensitivity to the suffering of others, especially from society’s most vulnerable, is inexcusable, and, although recompense might not arrive at all in this life, it is yet inevitable before a God who controls eternity. Without waiting for somebody else – another person, the church, the government – to step in, the disciple of Christ will step up and come to the aid of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the stranger. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
The apostle John applied this piece of wisdom especially to cases where brethren are involved on both sides. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him” (1 John 3:17-19).
Ignoring the plight of the poor, especially among brethren, is the worst example of selfishness and materialism and it must return to haunt.