Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lazarus is a priest

A priest whose body is “full of sores” is no longer permitted to serve in the Temple. As a priest, Lazarus had access to the food contributed to the Temple but now that he was been evicted, he is reduced to begging. In Luke 16:20 we read in the KJV version “And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,”[i] indicating he was placed in this location. The key Greek word is ἐβέβλητο which can be translated as “had been thrown” or “cast into” the gate. In any event Lazarus finds himself at the door of the House of Annas[ii] where the reigning High Priest resides. The sense of the Greek word ἐβέβλητο is that Lazarus was forcible removed from another location to his present location. If he was a priest, he would have been forcible removed from the Temple when his body became full of sores.

Lee Dahn wondered why Luke included the story of Jesus as a twelve year boy in the Temple.[iii] What was the significance of this event? What allusion was intended? Dahn concluded that Luke intended an allusion to the story of Samuel contained in 1 Sam. 2-3. In 1 Sam. 2:35, Dahn has demonstrated that Samuel meets the conditions of fulfilling the promise to “raise up for myself a faithful priest (2:35).” Dahn then notes that in 1 Sam. 2:36 God says that the destitute will come to his faithful priest begging for a piece of silver or a morsel of bread.

At the beginning of the parable, it is Lazarus who is looking for the crumbs that fell from the table. Then we read in verse 24: “And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz'arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’” Now it the rich man wants to beg from Lazarus and he wants Father Abraham to make this possible as an act of mercy. The rich man dressed in the purple clothing of the High Priest is by allusion compared to the corrupt sons of Eli described in 1 Sam. 2-3. Furthermore the High Priest in hell is now the destitute coming to his faithful priest begging. He does not realize that he is asking that Lazarus assume the role of the faithful priest Samuel.

Is he is asking for Lazarus to be sent because he knows the name of the beggar?[iv] It is more likely that a pun is intended, Lazarus is the abbreviated form of the name, “Eleazar” which in Hebrew means “God helps.” The rich man in purple is really saying “God help me.”

The real irony has not been fully appreciated. The unnamed rich man clothed in purple, now identified as Eleazar the High Priest, goes to Hades while the poor man named Lazarus goes to heaven fulfilling the promise to “raise up for myself a faithful priest (2:35)” where the High Priest asks that Lazarus be the faithful priest that will show him mercy. This Lazarus bears the abbreviated name, not as might be suspected, of second High Priest, but the name of the brother of the Theophilus, the High Priest to whom Luke addressed his gospel. Although not intended by the rich man dressed in purple who has become the destitute, Lazarus is being asked to be the “faithful priest.” This parable may be one of many hints scattered throughout the Gospel of Luke that the Lucan Jesus will fulfill the promise God made to “raise up for myself a faithful priest (2:35).” Jesus will soon become the eschatological priest. Talk about reversals!

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] I prefer the RSV translation but in this instance I think the KJV is more accurate.

[ii] The phrase, “my father's house,” is a reference to the house of Annas. See Lk. 22:54 and Bock, 1771.

[iv] Jerome says the Rich Man noticed the beggar but does he know his name?


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