Rich Man and Lazarus – Parables of Luke 15

In Luke 15 and 16, Jesus tells a set of five parables. Too often, when we read the gospels, much of the significance of what Jesus taught is lost because we pull his words out of context. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is the final parable in a series of five. Here, we begin by looking at the three parables in Luke 15.

Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

This series of five parables begins with, and is told because of the attitude the priestly class of Jesus' time has toward publicans and sinners. This attitude is summed up in a parable Jesus tells in Luke 18:9-14: Pharisees despised the sinners and tax collectors, and did everything they could to distance themselves from what they considered an inferior class.

Across three parables of Luke 15, Jesus demonstrates heaven's strategy of welcoming those back who had wandered away:

  1. Know they're lost, and don't know how to get back (lost sheep, Luke 15:4-7)
  2. Don't know they're lost, and can't get back (lost coin, Luke 15:8-10)
  3. Know they're lost, and wait to come back (prodigal son, Luke 15:11-24)
Prepare Redeem Rejoice
leaves 99 sheep goes to wilderness calls neighbors to rejoice
lights candle and sweeps searches diligently calls neighbors to rejoice
establishes trust, gives free choice waits earnestly best robe, ring, fatted calf, eat and be merry

The last of the three Parables doesn't quite fit into the mold of the first two. In the first two parables, the woman actively goes around and the shepherd actively goes out to search for that which is lost. The father of the prodigal son seems to be sitting at home the whole time (afar off), apparently not looking for his son. Why is this?

This is because the parable extends through Luke 15:25-31. In Luke 15:28, the father comes out of the feast to entreat his other son who is still outside. This son has several characteristics in common with the Pharisee of Luke 18:9-14 mentioned earlier:

  • is self-righteous, claiming to have followed commandments perfectly
  • fasting and abstaining from eating
  • accuses the younger brother of adultery

On the other hand, the prodigal son returns to the father penitently (Luke 15:18-19), similarly to the publican of Luke 18:13. Luke 18:14 bluntly states that the Pharisee did not return to his house justified.

The older brother in this story thought that his outward obedience to God was sufficient, but when his sinful brother returned, the covetousness of his heart was revealed. Of all the commandments the pious Pharisees kept, Paul admitted that covetousness was the commandment he struggled the most to keep (Romans 7:7-9)

The father in this story was not being negligent in not pursuing for the lost son, we already know he cares for the lost from the previous two parables. This parable is about a father who while redeeming the repentant prodigal son, the father pleads with the unrepentant self-righteous son.

The design here is to show that God is seeking to save the 99 sheep still in the fold that don't know their master (John 10:27). These are the sheep that don't know they're lost (John 8:33). The design here is to show that God is seeking not just the tenth coin (the tithe). He wants the other nine coins as well (Luke 18:12, Matthew 23:23).

This is the pivot point of Jesus' discourse. Starting with his treatment of the older son in Luke 15:25, Jesus pivots to address the greediness of the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. This is the lens we use to interpret Luke 16.