The beggar named Lazarus, vis a vis the very rich man — Luke 16:19-31






“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple [most expensive color] and finest linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.”



So opens the story Jesus tells in Luke 16


But for the most part, unbelieving Israel was content to keep her spiritual treasures to herself, and also content to keep the starving Lazarus well away from the Big House. Israel, the favored nation, the Chosen People, never shared more than table scraps from time to time, while she anticipated what she thought was going to be the consummation of her blessedness. When the end came, Israel expected to be at Abraham’s side, in a good place to watch the demise of all the godless nations that had been thorns in their side.










Jesus was a tradesman’s son of 1st century Palestine: the modern era to its citizenry for whom life was a current affair and their industry, state of the art. The wheel was commonplace, chariots were the last word in high tech, and leprosy had long been diagnosed as demon-related. Monsters, angels, imps, sorcerers, heavenly visions and miracles were customary at a time when people through no fault of their own knew little better. And as with most of the mediterranean world the local population was subject to Roman rule in the reign of Caesar Augustus: divi filius, (son of a god). This was the zeitgeist in which Yeshua, son of Yehosef, entered and exited.

Home was Nazareth (pop:400 approx), an agrarian village of no fixed visibility. At about a day’s walk from Jerusalem the place was barely a provincial pin prick on the map: And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said unto him, Come and see ( John 1:46), but it was no holiday getaway, the entire region was a hotbed of politico-religious unrest exposed to a variety of cultures and beliefs introduced via the trade routes of the Hellenized West and Indian East. Stoicism, Buddhism and the ascetic practises of the Essenes were among the more influential systems doing the rounds in Yeshua’s backyard. In a nutshell: Nazareth and the Galilee convulsed with dogmas.

He could often be found at the local synagogue contemplating the will of Yahweh or maybe evesdropping on the myriad apocalyptic prophets on the scene. One such prophet was the Essene, Johanan the Baptist, Yeshua’s second cousin and mentor, so named for his purification ritual of cleansing buck naked believers of sin by full immersion. The Baptist was a seriously hard core Torah junkie, completely committed to the letter of the law of Moses, and with a growing following, an irritant to the local ruler, Herod Antipas. Johanan’s apocalyptic outbursts no doubt grated with Herod but meddling in his personal affairs hit a nerve – when news broke that Antipas had married his divorcee niece, Herodias, Johanan denounced him publicly in full voice from the hilltops. An incensed Herod had him slapped around and thrown in prison, but the Baptist remained defiant, refusing to recant, for which he was rewarded with a free ringside seat at a beheading – his own.

Yeshua by contrast was more restrained and questioning. Charismatic and self assured he drew people to him. Frankly, for a working class tradesman from the outback he was positively saviour faire! He was a liberal Pharisee who made it his business to question the decrees of the Temple priests, at times finding them remote and implacable. He questioned the economics of the day, the taxes and division of wealth. And he became disillusioned with the apocalypse merchants and their failed promises of a messianic age that was always ‘just around the corner’. It drove him to ponder a new reality for a world rigidly divided into elites and non-elites, the filthy rich and the dirt poor. The fabric of his society was entrenched with a corrupted hierarchical order, with governance – religious and political – in the hands of a privileged minority that would never relinquish control. Even the Roman gods were split up into elite and non-elite camps.

Clearly the status quo was in need of a radical overhaul. He would find the spark in Hebrew scripture and the early prophets with whom he identified as harbingers of the Kingdom of God: …*on Earth as it is in heaven* (Matthew 6:9). Certain Torah passages spoke of Yahweh’s mandate being in every heart and mind and of the need to call social injustices and moral reform to attention (Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:26). These were later revisited in the Epistle to the Hebrews: This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them (Hebrews 10:16) / Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more (10:17).

He surmised that Yahweh himself now recognized the scriptures and Temple priests had failed to make people righteous – in fact they had become a hinderance – and so Yahweh had internalized the moral standard within people’s hearts: And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:20-21).

The upshot: while the faithful were sitting around waiting for God to act, God was waiting for them to act having already invested within them all they would ever need. The obstacle: blind faith in the old ways which had closed their hearts to the new. Yeshua resolved to be the key that opened them, thereby ushering in the kingdom of heaven on Earth. Not a new covenant but a flowering of the old covenant.

From the outset he knew that a just society required an even playing field, and he felt that the negative feelings that infested people’s hearts would continue to rule without critical self-analysis and a kind of excessive generosity towards each other: Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye (Mat 7.5) / Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on (Mark 12:43).


People, he concluded, needed to move away from the idea that morality was inherent to top-down divine law (vertical), instead embracing humanized ethics (horizontal), engaging in it as a moral code drawn from the heart. It followed that his kingdom of heaven on earth could only be grasped when everyone realized they were now the custodians of the moral standard and that it was intrinsic to human feelings, the inward moral sense, not a set of instructions memorized from a book or sermon as dictated from upon high. The effect of this among others things would be the end of the old system and its figures of oppression. Equally significant, it would pluck divine law out of the sky and entrust it with the people, making them accountable.

It was an audacious idea: courageous but daunting. He would preach that the kingdom of heaven on Earth had come and could be entered when all of life’s decisions were filtered through the principles of love, compassion and non-violence (principles he equated with the true nature of Yahweh, now internalized). It would be a socio-political revolution based on a moral platform with the old system supplanted by a simple magnanimous community of love that would irresistibly transform human relations. The moral laws and the people would then be one. His course was set, and so was his unappreciated place as the first modern radical humanist in history. Naturally his plan was framed in the religious context of the day but it’s clear he was championing a form of communal humanism. It would become known as the Way. And it would fail.


Much has been written about his mission up until his arrest so I won’t labour on it here too much. Suffice to say it began from the time of his ritual washing by cousin Johanan in the Air Jordon and lasted about three years. From among his disciples he chose 12 apostles (symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel) to form the nucleus of his movement – they included members of his own family. No longer a disciple of Johanan the Baptist he would branch out with his new message. Not too long after the Baptist’s beheading he left Nazareth and moved in with a mate, Shimon (Simon Peter), who had a house in Capernaum. There he taught in the synagogue and in nearby towns around the sea of Galilee. He taught in a compelling way: by aphorism and parable, and he chose his themes carefully to challenge and cajole. He prompted people to remodel their thinking:

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Mt 5:39b-41)


It is easier for a camel (rope) to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Mk 10:23b, 25)


There is nothing outside a person, which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a person are what defile him. (Mk 7:15)


Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes…. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? If then you are unable do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:22-26)


A following grew daily: mostly downtrodden peasants, the lame and the impoverished, enthralled with their new champion and the prospects of a better life. Good news for them, not so good for the rich and dominant who had it all to lose. Thus in the fullness of time the inevitable collision course would culminate in accusations, arrest and trials with only one possible winner. The Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem under the auspices of the all powerful Sadducees took a dim view of having their authority challenged by some hick from the bush riding in on a donkey. Some of his followers were even calling him the Meshiha, the anointed redeemer of the Jews prophesized to set them free and vanquish all evil.

But the priests were less concerned about messianic claims being bandied about than they were with Yeshua’s new paradigm which would pretty much put them out of a job. The only way to save their skin was to have him removed from the scene which they did through the agency of the brutal Pontius Pilate. He was found guilty of sedition for claiming to be a King and opposing taxes. Pilate gladly complied as insurance against the chances of further insurrection.





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