The Rich Man, Lazarus, and C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce

Though I’m well acquainted with both C.S. Lewis’ “Great Divorce” and Jesus’ “Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus,” I had never connected the two until today. This feat was achieved at my church.

Luke 16:19-31

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’

But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Notice that the rich man ignored the poor man Lazarus in both his earthly life and once in hell. But Jesus named Lazarus and never named the rich man. The rich man didn’t seem to realize his own sins as he was drowned in the gods of his own wealth while on earth.

Sins bind us to this world and blind us from the true light and love of Jesus Christ. Sometimes they almost attach themselves to us, becoming difficult (within our minds) to shake them off. C.S. Lewis’ “Great Divorce” includes sin in the metaphor of a lizard on a man’s shoulder, which could have been C.S. Lewis’ evil counterpart to Jiminy Cricket (Jesus Christ) on Pinocchio’s shoulder.

C.S. Lewis:

“I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. ‘Shut up, I tell you!’ he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

‘Off so soon?’ said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

‘Yes. I’m off,’ said the Ghost. ‘Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap, (here he indicated the lizard), ‘that he’d have to be quiet if he came -which he insisted on doing. Of course, his stuff won’t do here: I realize that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.’

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit-an angel, as I now understood.

‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.

‘Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.

‘Oh-ah-look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.

‘Don’t you want him killed?’

‘You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardlv meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’

‘It’s the onlv way,’ said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. ‘Shall I kill it?’

‘Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here-well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’

Shaking sins liberate us, but shaking sins is so damned hard. Pun intended.

Many of these connections stem from Father Anthony’s sermon at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Riverview, Florida on September 25, 2022.

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