Lazarus is the only character with a name in Jesus’ parables. Lazarus is the Greek version of the Hebrew "Eleazar", which means “God will help”. The rich man is sometime referred to as Dives. This person dressed in purple and linen; purple dye was obtained from sea snails and was expensive, as was linen, brought in from Egypt. There is no evidence that he was a bad man; probably, like the Pharisees, he kept the law but failed to notice the suffering of the beggar at his gate. The fact that he knew his name suggests that he was aware of the poor man’s existence but did nothing to help him. Luke draws a stark contrast between his costly attire and lavish feasts and the ragged clothes and hunger of Lazarus, who longed for the scraps fed to the dogs.
The lesson of this parable is clear. Riches bring responsibility, and they can be used generously or selfishly. Saints like St Louis of France and St Edith Wilton, who were wealthy, used it to benefit people. Louis, for example would invite thirteen poor people to dine with him every day. At the end of time, people will be judged on how they treated the needy, the sick and the less fortunate (Matt. 25:31-46).
Wealth has often been seen as a mark of God’s favour. Rich people are often admired and courted. Mary’s Magnificat turns this world view upside down (Luke 1:46-55). This is what happens in the parable where the rich man goes to Hades and Lazarus is comforted by Abraham. There is an irony here, for the pharisees regarded themselves as children of Abraham and yet it is the beggar Lazarus that he comforts. Scrupulous attention to the Law does not justify a person if they lack compassion.
The last part of the reading is particularly interesting. Abraham’s remarks about someone rising from the dead proved to come true. Jesus raised people from the dead and was raised himself, but many were not convinced by these events.