Saturday, November 12, 2016

I'm back . . . finally

I have been away quite a while—the new position as division chair has added a tremendous number of other duties that have taken me away from scholarship quite a bit—but it seems a good time, based on what we have seen in the United States this week, to return to receptions of the Rich Man and Lazarus parable, although the parable of the Good Samaritan seems perhaps even more pertinent now.

In previous posts in this series I looked at how the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus should be interpreted in its first-century, historical Jesus, and Lukan contexts. Those results, not surprisingly, were contested by a few readers, whose complaints, in my view, were a result of their having domesticated the radical teachings of Jesus.

An example to the contrary:

My Religion 100 students read Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited last week. I highly recommend that timeless book, and, perhaps after finishing this series on the Rich Man and Lazarus parable, I will write more fully about Thurman’s use of Jesus's parables in that book. 

In his book, Thurman argues that, in some respects, much of contemporary Christianity has domesticated the teachings of Jesus (e.g., “American Christianity has betrayed the religion of Jesus almost beyond redemption”; p. 88). Jesus was a poor Jew who was member of oppressed minority, and his message was to those who, like him, were disenfranchised, who had their “backs against the wall,” and it is this aspect that helps make Jesus’s message especially relatable today to people who similarly are disenfranchised and have their own backs against the wall: This is the position of the disinherited in every age, Thurman points out. Jesus proclaimed that the poor are worthy in God’s sight, are children of God, and God cares about and for them. This, Thurman argues, gives the disinherited a self-confidence in their own worth, a new courage and power to face up to and work against oppression. They have the assurance from Jesus that God loves them and will take care of them. 

I won’t yet discuss the other aspects of that book, but Thurman does use the parable of the Good Samaritan effectively to illustrate how love of God and neighbor, even one’s enemies, is the central ethic of Jesus’s message.

Okay, in the next post I will discuss the use of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus by Macrina the Younger (ca. 327-380).


  1. Dr. David B. Gowler

  2. The form of the narrative, including the fact that Luke situates it in a collection of parables (starting in Luke 15). Luke clearly thinks it is a parable, as do subsequent interpreters (e.g., Codex Bezae makes it explicit). Even the opening of the parable is similar to other parables (anthropos tis; a certain man). That form is used in several parables: Good Samaritan, Great Dinner, Prodigal Son, Dishonest Manager, the Pounds. Some people point to the fact that Lazarus is given a name to say the story if "literal," but the name Lazarus is also symbolic: "God helps." And not all parables are called parables by the authors of the gospels, and, in contrast, some things that aren't parables are actually called parables (some similitudes are labeled as parables by Gospel authors such as Luke). 


What are They saying about the Parables? (Chapter 4 , part 4): Contributions from Ruben Zimmermann (edited works)

  Ruben Zimmermann's "Integrative Approach” to Parables  (summarized from Chapter 4 of WATSA Parables?) Ruben Zimmermann has publis...