Our teacher, Charley Scandlyn, pointed out that Lazarus was the only person in all the parables of Jesus who is given a name. This reminded me, a few days later, of a Hebrew proverb that says something about a name being better than riches, and I found it this morning:
Now everybody who heard the parable would have known this verse from Proverbs. And since I remembered it within a couple of days, I have to believe some who were there would have remembered it instantly.A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.Proverbs 22:1 (NIV)
So as I picture the scene in my mind, Jesus begins the parable (Luke 16:19), “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple…” people would have nodded. This would be a typical opening. Purple was a color that only the rich could afford. But then Jesus adds “…and fine linen…” which would have stopped the nodding. The phrase “fine linen” doesn't mean much to us today, but what Jesus is saying here is that this guy has the fanciest underwear. This would be like saying the guy was dressed in Armani or Brooks Brothers suits, and he also wore the finest long-johns money could buy.
So there may have been some chuckles here. Jesus continues, “…and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a begger named Lazarus…”
I imagine Jesus pausing here briefly. The laughter has just started to subside, and now the people are truly astonished. I have to believe that some in the crowd would have remembered the verse from Proverbs, and caught Jesus's meaning instantly. The beggar has a name, Lazarus, and the rich clown with the fine underwear—nobody even knows his name! We don't care what his name is; he's nobody!
As Jesus continued the parable, the rich man is revealed to be a man without sense or honor. Even in the afterlife he has no understanding of the nature of things.
You can find the sermon at http://mppc.org/learn/sermons; look for one dated May 25-26, 2013.