Karl Marx famously said that religion was the opiate of the masses. Although his taunt misses true religion, there are many forms of religion in the world that his arrow hits dead center. One of them would be the Pharisaism of Jesus’ day.
We often miss the import of the Lord’s teaching, his cryptic sayings, and His parables, because we do not understand the running story of conflict between Him and the Pharisees. The Pharisees disregarded the poor, and had devised workarounds so that they did not have to obey passages like Dt. 15:7-8. They did not open their hand wide to their poor brothers, but instead had all kinds of rationalizations in place, for themselves and for the poor. To keep the poor from becoming restive, the Pharisees taught that poverty in this life would be compensated for in the next, almost exactly what Marx (himself a hypocrite and liar) was complaining about. But if that is true, as the Lord argued in His famous satire, the places must switch in the other direction too, and the rich will be in torments. Well, no, not exactly, the Pharisee muttered, trying to get off the hook.
The rich man in that parable was the Pharisaical caste, who had usurped privileges not theirs—they were dressed in purple (kings) and linen (priests). Lazarus, an abbreviation of Eleazar (whom God helps) was a fitting name—the Pharisees loved to fob responsibility for the poor off onto God directly. And the plight of men like Lazarus—sinners, rejected, cast off—was addressed more by men like Cornelius, a Roman centurion (Acts 10:2) than it was by the hyper-pious leaders of the people. The dogs would lick his sores. But would the guardians of Dt. 15 do anything? Not on your life.
The divine calculus always messes with our categories. The radical teaching of Jesus is very unlike what many would like to call being radical—there will be, after all, scrupulous Bible teachers among the goats and bomber pilots among the sheep.