One of the things I absolutely love doing in exegetical biblical studies is comparing and contrasting! I’ve already presented an example of this in a previous post: Nicodemus and the Woman of Samaria. In this post, I want to compare and contrast Lazarus the beggar in Luke 16:19-30 with the lame man at the Temple gate in Acts 3:1-11. For the sake of this exercise, we will focus primarily on Luke 16:20 and Acts 3:2.
First of all, we should note that Luke and Acts were written by the same author: Luke, the physician, traveling companion of Paul, and historian. This is important to know because in the scriptures, certain authors had certain writing styles that help us to identify and/or verify whether or not they were the likely author of a certain text. For example, in the quest to identify the author of Hebrews, some have suggested the Apostle Paul. However, when we study the book of Hebrews in the original language, it just doesn’t “sound” like Paul when compared to works definitely known to be Pauline in origin. (By the way, only God knows who wrote Hebrews!) Well, enough of that, let’s get to the study at hand.
The first thing that captured my attention as I looked at these two passages was the similarity in wording in the English versions, particularly in the KJV (King James Version). In Luke 16:2, Luke records Jesus as saying: “And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus. . .” Luke begins Acts 3:2 with: “And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb. . .” Note that both verses employ the word “certain” (the Greek word translated as “certain” is the same in both texts also). This was Luke’s way of indicating that a specific person, not just any person, was being referenced. Note that while the “certain man” in Acts was nameless, in Luke the story was about a “certain beggar” named Lazarus.
We don’t know exactly how Lazarus arrived at the rich man’s gate, but Luke tells us that the man that was lame from his mother’s womb “was carried daily” and was laid at the gate of the Temple called Beautiful. Now, here is where it gets real interesting! Although both of these texts were written by the same author and although all of the English versions say that both men were “laid” at their gates, there are two different Greek words used to denote the idea of these two men being laid at their respected gates! In Luke 16:20 the Greek word that is translated as “laid” is the pluperfect passive indicative form of the verb: “ballo.” It means; to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls, to scatter, to throw, cast into. In Acts 3:2 the Greek word that is translated as “laid” is the imperfect active indicative form of the verb “tithemi.” Its means; to set, put, place or lay, to put down, to lay down. So the question before us is this: Was Luke suggesting two different “laids” (I know that’s not a word; just bear with me!) or was he just using two different words for stylistic variation? Luke used the term: “tithemi” in Luke 23:53 in reference to the laying down of the body of Jesus in the sepulcher, so apparently he made a distinction between the two terms, therefore I think the former is the case! I think Luke was saying that the beggar Lazarus was thrown or tossed in a haphazardly fashion at the rich man’s gate, while in contrast, the lame man was carefully carried and lovingly placed at the Temple gate! However, we cannot see this contrast without access to the original languages! It helps us to better understand the predicament of Lazarus when we realized that indeed, the only real help he had was from God! (The name: “Lazarus” means; “whom God helps.”)
Finally, they both were laid at gates and Luke also used two different Greek words to relay the concept of gates. In Luke 16:20, Luke used the Greek noun; “pulon,” which is defined as; a large gate: of a palace, the front part of a house, into which one enters through the gate, porch. In Acts 3:2, Luke used the noun; “thura,” which is defined as; a door, the vestibule, an entrance. From this we can surmise that the rich man’s house was quite an elaborate structure! Lazarus was tossed at the entrance of the rich man’s palace and the lame man in Acts 3:2 was gingerly laid at the entry-way of the Temple!
And so in conclusion, perhaps a comparison and contrast of these two men at their respective gates is a lesson for us as individuals and as members of various communities of faith. The individual lesson comes from the plight of Lazarus at the rich man’s gate! Because Lazarus was at the gate, the rich man could not plea ignorance of Lazarus’ condition! Every time he left home and every time he came home, he had to pass by, go around, or step over Lazarus! Sometimes life puts people at our gates that we cannot justifiably ignore! How do we treat these people? Do we get involve and attempt to alleviate their suffering or do we simply ignore them; passing by, going around or stepping over them like the rich man did Lazarus? And as faith communities, there are people all around the gates of our “temples” (houses of worship). How do we, as communities of faith, respond to them? Many times, like the man in Acts, they have their hands out for monetary assistance (help with utility bills, rent, etc.) but we must recognize that the need is often much deeper! They need more than just a “hand-out” they need a “hand-up!” They need job-training! They need drug and substance abuse rehabilitation! They need the church to get involve with their lives by lifting them up by the hand, helping them to rise up out of their debilitating situations! Then they will receive strength to stand on their own! And then, if this is consistently done it in the name of Jesus, (doing it in the spirit of Jesus; doing it because it is what Jesus would do and doing it as representatives of Jesus) and not doing it just in hope of adding to the church roll, like the man in the story, they will eventually follow us into the Temple, “walking, and leaping, and praising God!”