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Lazarus, the Rich Man, and the Sin of Pride

On the Readings for Sunday, September 25, 2022.

'A Rich Man and Lazarus' by Vasily Surikov (1873).
"A rich man and Lazarus" (1873) by Vasily Surikov []

• Am 6:1a, 4-7
• Ps 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
• 1 Tm 6:11-16
• Lk 16:19-31

As we hear the various parables from the Gospel of Luke, it is good to keep two things in mind. First, the context of these teachings, which were given by Jesus as he made his way up to Jerusalem to “be delivered into the hands of men” (Lk. 9:44) and enter into his Passion. That journey was not just a physical journey, but also a sign of obedience to the will of the Father, a concrete expression of perfect humility and self-gift.

Secondly, his parables and discourses given during the journey were not haphazard or random in nature, but form a cohesive and focused whole. They are like different paths leading to the same place and shedding light on the same event: Jesus’ death on the Cross for the salvation of mankind. Some of them were meant specifically for the disciples; others for the crowds following Jesus; still others for the Pharisees and other religious leaders.

Between last week’s reading of the parable of the dishonest steward (Lk. 16:1-15) and today’s parable is a little bridge of five verses (16:14-18). That passage states that the Pharisees—“who were lovers of money”—had heard Jesus say, “You cannot serve God and mammon”, and had sneered at him. Jesus then said to them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.”

This sets up the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, a story sometimes interpreted solely as a renunciation of greed and a call to treat the poor with justice. That interpretation is, of course, both correct and important. Today’s reading from the prophet Amos takes up the same issue, directing a curse toward the complacent wealthy who stuff themselves with rich meat while starving themselves spiritually. And the first half of the parable (vs 19-26) is directed toward the same sort of opulent self-indulgence and gluttonous revelry.

But there is more to it, for Jesus took what was quite possibly a well-known motif—a rich man descending into Hades—and suddenly, as the saying goes, brought it home with an unexpected epilogue. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers so they might escape eternal torment. Who are the five brothers? In the immediate context, they are the Pharisees, the ones who have and know the law of Moses and the prophets and yet fail to pursue the will of God and die to pride.

St. Jerome, commenting on this passage, said the rich man is not accused of greed, theft, adultery, “or, in fact, of any wrongdoing. The evil alone of which he is guilty is pride.” Pride, says St. Thomas Aquinas in his treatise on evil, signifies an intentional contempt of God. Every sin, in fact, is infected to some degree by pride. The Catechism explains that “hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to love of God, whose goodness it denies…” (par 2094).

Pride destroys love for God and love for others; it seeks only itself and its desires, without thought for tomorrow or the afterlife. The Pharisees, as Abraham tells the rich man, have Moses and prophets. They, more than anyone else, had no excuse for being prideful and refusing to repent. But they failed to heed John the Baptist’s warning about believing that because Abraham was their father, they had no need for repentance (Lk 3:8).

Jerome, providing a spiritual interpretation, likens the five brothers to our five physical senses. Pride often comes through physical, sensual pleasures; materials things meant for our good can become our masters. “Blessed are you who are poor,” Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “But woe to you who are rich…” Regardless of income and social status, all Christians must pursue a spirit of poverty, for without it we cannot take up the cross, die to sin, and enter eternal beatitude.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the September 26, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. We got an interesting take on the parable yesterday. According to the homilist, it is not so much a renunciation of greed as it is a condemnation of indifference. The rich man doesn’t even come off as particularly selfish, except in the broadest sense. He just doesn’t take Lazarus into consideration at all. He doesn’t see him. Interestingly, Lazarus is the only person in any of the parables who is identified by name, and is thus “closer” to us than any others by being more of a person. It is not so much that the rich man is cruel deliberately, but that he depersonalizes the most personalized individual in all the parables by completely ignoring him and treating him as if he did not even exist.

    • Your homilist was correct. It’s not generally the arrogance of the rich [many wealthy persons give to the poor through agencies some generously others tokenly] rather it’s the widespread indifference of the vast majority toward the poor, and those requiring our intervention that lands many into Hell. Indifference here is defined as the unwillingness to respond with hands on assistance.

      • Taken in context of the Gospel parable Olson is accurate, “Amos takes up the same issue, directing a curse toward the complacent wealthy who stuff themselves”. Complacency is indifference, here for the rich. At the time [of the Gospel writing] the issue was relevant to the Pharisees.
        Today we have the comparatively ‘well off’, who make token contributions to collections on Sunday, similarly to charitable organizations, although never available to the wanting person on the streets, so to speak. A form of indifference unwilling to address what is an inconvenience to a comfortable, untroubled life.

        • If I may continue to elaborate on the parable of destitute Lazarus and the rich man because of its existential importance for us all. Lazarus is also Christ.
          Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me (Mt 25 41-43).
          This is our challenge today, to care beyond convention, social rituals. Which is why I’ve frequently recommended parishioners fulfill what Christ requires at judgment. For the average parishioner, one immediately available opportunity are local nursing homes, medical centers where we can visit patients, residents [whether or not we know them], many frequently in need of friendship, a sign of care, knowledge that they’re not forgotten. We can be Christ for them. It’s an accessible entree to developing a more compassionate spiritual life pleasing to God.

  2. So it seems that the rich man was not condemned because of his chest of gold coins and all his treasures and possessions but because in his self-indulgence and selfishness he thought of himself as the greatest and #1, who deserves the best of everything as onto self-worship while everyone else could perish. His heart and soul were already dead.

  3. Humility is an aid to our faith. Pride can subjugate another. The son of man came as a servant and we look to Him as the proper example of a useful helper. Pride causes us to be self-centred. A Christ like demeanour wins souls, others see Him at work within us.

    Pride always causes us to think we are right, it distances us from our fellow man. Those with a Christ like image are the ones who sustain the church through their courage and fidelity to God’s precepts.

    Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.

    James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

    Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

    Proverbs 22:4 The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honour and life.

    1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

    Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

    Psalm 10:4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

    Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,


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  3. Lazarus, the Rich Man, and the Sin of Pride | Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph (FSJ) , Asumbi Sisters Kenya
  4. Lazarus, the Rich Man, and the Sin of Pride – Catholic World Report – Health & Wellness

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