Poor Man Lazarus

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

September 24, 2022

Scripture—Luke 16:19-31 (NRSV)

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”


You cannot serve God and money. You can, however, serve God and other people—sometimes with money, sometimes without. But don’t be too quick to assume that it’s without.


When I was in high school I traveled one summer with a Methodist youth choir. We went to England, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands seeing historical sights and enjoying new food and buying postcards and all the things that you do on a trip (in 1990, anyway. We had to take all our selfies with film cameras.)

The anthems that we learned together ranged from Latin motets to settings of Charles Wesley hymns to Black spirituals. One of our songs was a famous arrangement of the Black spiritual “Poor Man Lazarus,” which tells the story of today’s Scripture reading (I’ll link you to it during the “Act” portion, naturally). I can’t get it out of my head whenever I come to this chapter.

Luke 16, except for a couple of verses, basically involves two long parables about money. The first is the story of the shrewd and dishonest manager who, when he gets fired for cooking the books, goes back and cooks them in favor of those his master has lent money to so that he can be assured of landing a cushy job with one of them. Jesus, surprisingly, holds him up as a model – though exactly how and why is somewhat mysterious. But he certainly reminds the disciples that “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8). As he drives home the point, he insists that “you cannot serve both God and money” (16:13b). Kind of the same thing Paul was saying to Timothy yesterday, isn’t it; money can make a good servant, but it always makes a poor master.

Out of the debate arising from this parable, Jesus teaches today’s lesson. People have gotten a lot of speculation out of this story about the nature of the afterlife, but that doesn’t really seem to be the point. The parable seems far more interested in where the love of money will take you, if you allow it to become the master.

Even in the afterlife, the rich man perceives Lazarus only as someone who can serve him: bring him water, warn his brothers. Abraham in the parable makes it clear that a different lesson is already there to learn from Moses and the prophets; and we who read these words today within the Christian tradition can learn the same lesson from the Gospels, and from 1 Timothy. You cannot serve God and money. You can, however, serve God and other people—sometimes with money, sometimes without. But don’t be too quick to assume that it’s without.


What does Jesus want you to do with your money?


Here’s “Poor Man Lazarus.” Put yourself into the mind of Lazarus, and of the rich man, as you listen. (It’s well worth reading more about the Fisk Jubilee Singers, performers of this arrangement, too, as you ponder the intersection of money and faith.)


Lord, how do you want me to serve others—including with money? Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the the Theology of Work Project online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Shrewd Manager and the Prodigal Son (Luke 16:1-13; 15:11-32).

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Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Editorial Coordinator

Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University; MSLIS, University of Illinois; MDiv/MA Asbury Theological Seminary) is the copyeditor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also senior editor of

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