Opinion: Finding Meaning


The Rich Man’s Lesson

Ever had a deep thought running around in your head you couldn’t put words to? I recently met with a women’s Bible study group that I visited several years ago. The discussion from that first visit inspired the column, “Husbands Not Listening.” That column led to chats about listening with the Beautiful Wife. Now I was back to see what else I might learn.

Their subject was the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, told in Luke 16: 19-31. The Rich Man, you’ll recall, wore fine linen of purple and fared sumptuously. Poor Lazarus lay at the Rich Man’s gate, covered with sores, hoping for table crumbs. Only the dogs cared for him, licking his wounds.

Both men die and their social standing is dramatically reversed. Angels carry poor Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom, in Paradise. The Rich Man finds himself in Hades, tormented by flame. He sees Lazarus with Abraham and begs for a bit of water, but they are separated by an impassable gulf. He then asks that Lazarus visit his five brothers to warn them, lest they also land in Hades. Abraham explains that if his brothers won’t heed the words of Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded by a visitor from the dead.

It’s a remarkable parable, vividly told with an economy of words. But what does it mean? One conclusion seemed easy: The first stop after death is either heaven or hell, with an unpassable gulf between them. We’re bogged down in the next question, what determined the two men’s outcome? Is there evil in prosperity and virtue in poverty? That’s a disturbing question if you’re wealthy enough to live in Laguna and have a closet full of fine linens. On the other hand, the homeless among us may find solace in Lazarus’ outcome.

The group explored what might have made the difference in outcomes for the two men but without conclusion. Only God knows; the parable offers no hint. But maybe it does. Walking home, I pondered this unanswered question. I thought about the women in the Bible study group. They’ve been together over 40 years. They’ve reared their children together and prayed each other through life’s ups and downs. In my observation, they’re an unusually kind and caring group of women. Though from various churches, they’re unified by a shared reverence for the Bible.

The Bible study ladies had actually practiced the guidance suggested for the Rich Man’s five brothers to avoid Hades—to heed the words of Moses and the prophets in their lives. The Bible joins those words with the life and teachings of Christ and the birth of Christianity. It’s the world’s oldest, most published, and most read book, the foundation of Western civilization and the modern democracies. It’s also, perhaps, the most neglected book. Which puts words to the deep thought running through my head: It’s best to follow Abraham’s guidance and heed the words of the prophets. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach”. Email: [email protected]

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