If this and other parables cause you to scratch your head and perhaps even squirm uncomfortably, then you have succeeded in recognizing the purpose of parables. They are not cute fairy tales but deep, rich, and challenging theological tools. Remember, Jesus was put to death because of his teaching and his parables make up a huge part of his curriculum!
When it comes to parables, it’s important to remember that Jesus used them to make a specific point about one specific aspect of discipleship and the Kingdom of God. No one parable attempts to explain every aspect of the nature of God and our relationship with him.
In the case of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus uses this parable to continue making his point about the danger of riches and how material possessions can cloud our vision. The main point of the parable is that the rich man does not even take notice of the poor man at his gate and, as a result, suffers the consequences: punishment in Hades or the abode of the dead. This is not a parable of forgiveness. In fact, the rich man does not ask for forgiveness but rather for pity. Throughout it all, the rich man never shows concern for Lazarus, but only for himself and his immediate family. The parable goes on to explain that the rich man had every opportunity of escaping his fate if he (and his father’s household) had only honored Moses (the Law) and the Prophets which teach the inseparability of love of God and love of neighbor. To separate ourselves from neighbor is to separate ourselves from God. Forgiveness occurs only when one is contrite about removing the separation that lies between ourselves and others. The rich man never shows any contrition or desire to recognize Lazarus as his neighbor. Ultimately, this parable challenges us to pay as much attention to sins of omission as we do to sins of commission. Jesus invites us to recognize those who are laying at our own gates, previously unnoticed.