"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried."
The section is closely connected to what Jesus had just taught regarding being a good steward (cf. 16:1ff). While the parable of the unjust steward teaches us how riches are to be used properly, this latter portion of this passage (which we have yet to read) shows the terrible consequences of failing to do so.
There has been much discussion as to whether or not this section is a parable. Personally, I don't believe that it is a parable because Jesus mentions a specific name (i.e., Lazarus, which was a common name at that time). Of all the known parables of Jesus, there is not a single instance in which He names a person, unless this is the exception. Of course, whether or not it is a parable is unimportant for it does not change any of the truths taught therein.
Some (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists) say it is a parable because they do not believe that one is conscious after death. However, it should be observed that in all the parables of Jesus there is never introduced any character or detail that is out of harmony with reality (i.e., the details of Jesus' parables could have all been descriptions of actual events, though there is no reason to believe that they were). Thus, it is illogical to dismiss the "afterlife truths" that this passage contains by merely calling it a parable. Also, why would Jesus speak words about the life hereafter that were untrue or not in harmony with the way things really were?
The rich man is not named, but Jesus describes him as one who wore "purple and fine linen." In that day, purple dye was obtained from a rare shellfish. Each creature yielded about one drop of the dye. Consequently, only the nobles and kings could afford the extravagance of wearing purple. This rich man also "fared sumptuously every day" (i.e., he ate luxurious food daily, not just occasionally). Truly, this man was on "easy street."
In Luke 16:20, Jesus begins to describe Lazarus in contrast to the rich man. Lazarus was a beggar; he was dependent upon the benevolence of others for food. Additionally, his body was "full of sores." He had been laid (literally "thrown") at the gate of the rich man, indicating that he did not place himself there.
Lazarus evidently wasn't ruled by the lust of the flesh. He would have been content to eat that which fell from the rich man's table, but it doesn't appear that the rich man gave him even this. In addition to being hungry, in pain, and perhaps improperly clothed, it appears that Lazarus is also afflicted by dogs who licked his sores. If the dogs are not afflicting him, then Jesus mentions them to show that the only medical attention, momentary relief, and compassion that this poor, helpless man received was not from men but dogs.
Lazarus was evidently a righteous man (cf. 16:22) for the angels wouldn't have carried him to Abraham's bosom just because he was poor (cf. Acts 10:34,35). Lazarus is a reminder that just because one serves God doesn't mean that physical life will be easy or pleasant.
Eventually both Lazarus and the rich man died, and they stand in contrast to one another after death as they had in life. The rich man was buried (probably with much pageantry), but the text doesn't state whether Lazarus was buried or not. Death was a relief for Lazarus in that it freed him from his sick, hungry body. Angels carried his spirit to "Abraham's bosom." This is equivalent to saying that he was taken to a spiritual place of comfort to recline with Abraham (cf. John 13:23), the "father of the faithful" and the head of the Jewish family.
We will continue studying from Luke 16 in our next lesson.