The Gospel lesson of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) is a parable which Jesus told. It aims at teaching us a lesson on living on earth more than a lesson about what heaven is like. Perhaps we can borrow a phrase from Galileo that the lesson from the Spirit is how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. Here is Christ’s parable:
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 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 listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
The virtue which Lazarus exhibits, so the Church Fathers say is patience in the face of suffering.
“With regard to patience, St. John Cassian writes: ‘The advantage that illness can sometimes present appears quite clearly with the beatitude illustrated by the poor, ulcerated Lazarus. Scripture makes no mention at all in his regard of any virtue. His great patience in supporting his poverty and illness alone merits the blessed fortune to be admitted into the bosom of Abraham.’ Referring to this same parable, St. John Chrysostom likewise underscores the fact that Lazarus did nothing extraordinary other than suffer his illness and his poverty with patience, and it is this that earned him eternal salvation. For his part, St. Macarius affirms that ‘when souls have been delivered from various afflictions – whether these be caused by other people, or they result from bodily illnesses – they receive the same crowns and the same assurances as the martyrs, if they have preserved patience until the end.’” (Jean-Claude Larchet, The Theology of Illness, pg. 77)