I thought I ought to look again at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. I said to myself, "Just look at what the text actually says and ask what it means to take this text seriously as a teaching of the Lord." So I have started to try doing that.
What is puzzling me (a little) is this:
the rich man suffers in Hades because he is rich. Not because he did bad things, but simply because he was rich in a world in which others were destitute. The poor man enjoys life at Abraham's side because he was poor. Not because he was good (or because he believed the gospel). Simply that his life was crap. God reverses the situations of the rich man and Lazarus.
Clearly the key point concerns the huge disparities in wealth and God's reversal of that.
But to send a man to Hades simply for being wealthy and another to Abraham's side simply because his life was crap seems odd. (Which presumably is why almost all commentators seem to suggest other reasons for the fates of the two men — e.g., the rich man was impious and Lazarus was pious. Perhaps so, but Jesus does not mention this — we have to read it into the text.)
But is Jesus really teaching that one's fate after death is determined by one's relative wealth? That is what this parable seems to suggest if we assume that Jesus is offering systematic teasching here. (But perhaps our error lies in assuming that Jesus is offering that kind of teaching here.)
So what is Jesus saying to us about disparities of wealth in this parable? How is it that many western Christians seem not to feel ill at ease with the great disparities of wealth in the world when we read this parable?