Another poem of Melanchthon’s, this time a prayer in verse (the meter is elegiacs) based upon the story of the Rich Man (or Dives) and Lazarus in Luke 16, written in 1539.
Sick and rough with sores all over my body,
I lie here, and my limbs perish of wasting hunger,
just as Lazarus–to whom, as one despised, no one brought aid–
once lay before the doors of Dives.
Nevertheless, just as the famous Lazarus, spurned by all,
but an object of your care, was received into your bosom,
So, eternal God, may your mercy deliver me,
and may the shadow of your right hand cover me in my wretchedness.1
- Melanchthon appropriates Lazarus’ perspective for himself (though the poem appears to have been recited by a student), and in effect ventriloquizes him. Though perhaps a school exercise, the poem makes a fitting prayer for anyone who finds himself overtaken by illness.
- I say “school exercise” because of Melanchthon’s mention of the poem in a letter dated 6 July 1539:
- Note his substitution of God for Abraham in the biblical account: in the latter, Lazarus is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom. This substitution is of course an implication of the text itself, for Lazarus is apparently in paradise, a place of rest and refreshment, in contrast to Dives, who was “in Hades, being in torment” (v. 23, ESV), though mysteriously in such a way that he could see Lazarus. The substitution is perhaps intended to point up the mistake of Dives, who identifies Abraham himself as sovereign over this realm (“Father Abraham, have mercy on me” [v. 24, ESV]).
- The rest and refreshment enjoyed by Lazarus is brought to attention obliquely by the reference to the “shadow of [God’s] right hand,” which also and at the same time calls to mind the use of that image in the Psalter. The shadow provides coolness, which is what Dives longs for (v. 24) and cannot have.