Poor Man Lazarus

This was originally posted 14 May 2010, and a lot of people come here from a search result. It’s been updated a couple of times now, so I’m re-posting it here.

Poor Man Lazarus is a traditional spiritual based on Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus recorded in chapter 16 of Luke, starting at verse 19. In the song the rich man is called “Dives.” This comes from a misreading of the Latin in verse 19, Homo quidam erat dives, qui induebatur purpura et bysso, et epulabatur quotidie splendide. There’s a note about it linked in the text.

Sung very well by the College of the Sequoias Men’s Chorus:

I wonder; if Caesar’s Department of Social Services had come by and taken Lazarus to the shelter, would Dives have gone to Heaven when he died?

I also wonder where exactly were Lazarus and Abraham. That’s one of those questions it’s sometimes unkind to ask other Christians. Anyway, there’s plenty to think about without going into that. The rich man knew right were he was, but knowing didn’t do him any good.

Lyrics

Poor man Lazarus, sick and disabled,

Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame.

He had to eat crumbs from the rich man’s table.

Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame.

Refrain:

I’m tormented in the flame!
I’m tormented in the flame!
Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
’cause I’m tormented in the flame!

Rich man Dives he lived so well,

Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame.

And when he died he went straight to hell,

Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame.

[Refrain]

I love to shout, I love to sing,

Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame.

I love to praise my heavenly King,

Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame.

[Refrain, sung as a round]

UPDATE 9 June 2010: John Wesley’s sermon on the rich man and Lazarus emphasizes Luke 16:31: If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

UPDATE 28 January 2014: The thing is, the rich man isn’t recorded as having done anything particularly bad; even in his torment, he thinks of his brothers, still alive back home, and asks for someone to be sent to warn them. Some traditional versions make out Dives to be a bad guy, sending out his bully boys to run off that no-good beggar, but this has no basis in what Jesus says. “…the most straightforward reading of the parable is that Dives is in hell simply for being rich when Lazarus was poor; a philanthropic sin of omission is not explicitly mentioned.” Maybe so; or maybe the rich man wasn’t in Hell proper, or maybe Jesus let him out when He descended to the dead. Anyway, Jesus said what He said, and “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally,” Flannery O’Connor observed.

UPDATE 22 December 2015: Replaced dead link

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