Why five brothers?
Parables, especially in the first century were a well developed art form. Each word used in a parable, especially in its original language, is carefully chosen to pack meaning into the fewest number of words to facilitate memorization and repetition.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) is no exception to this rule. The first two parts of this parable were well developed and widely circulated in various forms even before Jesus’ time. In the first scene Lazarus, whose name derives from a common Hebrew name meaning God Helps, had lain under the rich man’s table with the dogs, hoping to grab a scrap of bread, bread perhaps discarded after wiping grease from a diner’s hands, to fill his belly. The rich man remains unnamed throughout the story to facilitate the hearers filling their names into the story. Lazarus dies and was carried to heaven by angels. Eventually the rich man also dies and was buried. The contrast between the Lazarus being carried upward but the earth consuming the rich man’s body was intentional, for in the next scene Lazarus appears lying with his head on Abraham while the rich man is tormented in Hades. That the rich man still has not learned his lesson becomes evident in his request for Abraham to send Lazarus to bring him a drop of water.
The version of the parable that Jesus told and as recorded by Luke uniquely adds a third scene with few lines of dialog between the rich man and Abraham about sending Lazarus to warn his five brothers. To which Abraham laments that they would not even listen to someone rising from the dead. Obviously an oblique reference to what Jesus would soon do and yet fail to convince everyone.
With so much packed into these few words that the rich man had five brothers seems to be an inconsequential detail. Why not say a brother or some brothers? Or is it?
I will have more to say about Luke 16:19-31 on Sunday, September 25th, 2016 at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
Robert Shaw, Pastor