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The Parable of
THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
The man in the wheelchair with no legs always held the same sign: “Will work for food”. At first, Larry thought it was funny. After all, what kind of work could an old, legless man do? His first impulse was to reach in his pocket and give the old man his change. After he did so, he began to think, “I wonder if I’ve just been had?” Larry began to reason within himself, “After all, I just gave him some money out of sympathy and respect that an old man with no legs was willing to work, and all he wanted was food. But how do I know he’s really willing to work? He just holds up that stupid sign, and stupid people just dig in their pockets and give him their hard-earned money. What a scam! This old guy has a good thing going for him. I wish I could just park myself in front of a busy business building and have people give me money.”
So that’s how Larry became able to walk past the old man every day without giving him any more money. After a few years, the old man disappeared, although it took Larry a few weeks to realize it. “Good”, thought Larry. “Now people can come and go into our law firm without that old eyesore pestering them. Larry was the Senior Partner in that law firm. He also had five brothers who worked there as well. All of them became very wealthy by picking and choosing the cases that were worthy of their esteem. Together, they were one of the most powerful law firms in the state.
One day, in one brief second, everything changed for Larry. His car was in a head-on collision while he was racing to get to work, and all of a sudden, he found himself face-to-face with an angel. At least that’s what Larry assumed. It was a being with a soft, pleasant voice that radiated a beautiful white light, although it did not have wings, as Larry supposed it should have.
“Am I dead?” asked Larry.
“Yes”, said the angel, simply.
Larry looked around himself, but could only see the brilliant white light everywhere he looked. He was more than mildly relieved that he was not in a lake of fire and brimstone, being stabbed with a pitchfork by a red-skinned, horned creature.
The angel waited patiently for Larry to finish his thought and return his attention to the present moment.
The angel said, “I have something to show you.” Then he pointed to a speck in the distance which became bigger and bigger as Larry observed it. Soon, it stood before them like a huge bubble of light. Inside the bubble was the old legless man in the wheelchair, just as Larry remembered him.
“Is he dead too?” asked Larry.
“Yes”, said the angel. “Do you know who he is?”
“Yes”, said Larry. “He’s the old man that used to sit in front of my office building, begging for food.”
“Yes”, said the angel, “but do you know who he is?”
“No”, said Larry, chagrined. As he looked back at the bubble, the scene within it changed. He saw various pleasant little scenes of a little boy growing up. He saw the boy doing such things as helping his little sister learn to ride a bicycle, returning a fallen fledgling to its nest, and raking leaves in the yard of an elderly man.
Then the scene changed again. The boy was now a young man in a military uniform, in the middle of a raging war. He saw him as an honored hero, receiving a Purple Heart for his wounds, yet returning voluntarily to active duty. Larry watched as the young man ran into enemy territory to rescue a wounded comrade, and later, hurling his body on top of a live grenade to save the lives of his entire platoon.
“That is how he lost his legs”, the angel explained.
“He must have gotten the Congressional Medal of Honor”, said Larry, with newfound respect for the man.
“Yes”, said the angel, “but he would rather have had his legs.’
Larry agreed. “What happened to him after that?” he asked. Even before he finished his sentence, the scene in the bubble changed again. Larry watched the man volunteering his time for boys at the YMCA; he then became chairman of a fundraising committee at a local children’s hospital; he also became a spokesman for Fire Prevention Awareness; he spent much of his life encouraging injured children and adults to adjust to life in a wheelchair; he lobbied for the government to impose standards such as wheelchair accessibility in public restrooms and buildings, and he later became vice-president of the Special Olympics Committee to recognize Olympic sports for disabled athletes.
Larry was impressed. “How did a decorated veteran like him wind up begging for food on the streets?” he asked.
“Like so many others”, the angel replied. “Without his legs, he was never able to find a wife; he was never able to have children. He outlived all of his relatives and friends. He was ninety-three when he died.”
Larry became overcome with shame at how he had treated the old man. Right in front of him had been an honorable, noble man, whom he had treated with disgrace. “I want to see him”, Larry said. “I want to tell him I’m sorry.”
The angel shook his head. “He has no need of your pity”, he said. “He is comforted in the bosom of Abraham. Besides this, between you and him there is a great gulf fixed. So that those who want to pass from here to there cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”
Larry’s heart was filled with grief, sorrow, and pain. Tears fell freely from his eyes. Then he said, “I beg of you to send him to my five brothers, to testify to them, so they will soften their hearts and treat people with compassion while they are still alive.”
But the angel shook his head sadly and said, “They have the Holy Scriptures. If they will not hear the testimony of God, neither will they be persuaded, even if one rises from the dead.”
THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS (Luke 16:19-31)
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and finest linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received good things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ Then he said, ‘I beg of you therefore father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”