When Queen Victoria traveled through Coal Country in the middle of England, she would pull the shades down in her carriage as she found the landscape far too dreary. In her journal she wrote, "the houses are black, the people are black. It is quite desolate." In the parable, Jesus tells, the rich man when he leaves his plush compound glances over to his left and looks at what appears to be a crumpled pile of rags. He realizes it is a man because the dogs are licking his sores. The rich man draws back in disgust and puts a lace cloth up to his nose, shielding himself from the stench of the filthy man. Shaking his head, he walks on.
Have we all at some point in our lives not had our own Lazarus'? Homeless people stretched out on the sidewalk or crumpled up in doorways seeking shelter from the elements. Ignored by those who pass they shake their heads in disgust and wrinkle their noses at the smell emitting from their clothes. Both men die the rich man goes to a fiery afterlife, and Lazarus rests in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man still believes he is in control and tells Abraham to send Lazarus down to quench his thirst. His request denied he then asks to have his brothers told of the fate that awaits them if they don't mend their ways. Once again, he is told, no. A word the rich man has not heard before.
Perhaps though you have been a Lazarus, ignored or overlooked. Try in this culture being a woman over 50 or an older person. Talk about feeling invisible! Or maybe you have been the rich man, in a hurry not paying attention and you bump into someone. He is irate, and you apologize profusely, stammering out, "I'm sorry. I didn't see you." Face flaming. You get away as fast as possible.
Luke once again uses the "Great Reversal," the mighty will be sent away empty. A vast abyss separates the rich man and Lazarus, the same as when they were alive. The rich man still believes he is in charge, unable to see Lazarus is now protected and loved by Abraham. This story originated as an African folk tale about a reincarnated Egyptian who takes his father of a tour of the Underworld. The rich man is shrouded in fine cloth while the poor man lays unmourned. The former in torment and the latter sits on a throne of gold. It is a theme we are all familiar know. What can we learn from them?
First, having possessions does not define us. While having beautiful things is fine when our properties own us, is when we lose focus on what God is hoping for us. Most of us are familiar with the notion of the "Prosperity Gospel," which is it is God's will to bless us with wealth and good health. We just have to pray enough. But what about those who do pray and live good lives? What about when God doesn't bless them? Are they less than us? Remember being poor was seen as some sin visited upon the person for not living a righteous life. Things happen, and it is usually not a big thing which causes someone to be impoverished, it is many little things which stack up and lead to a life of despair.
Second, the rich man did not have to be haughty and ignore Lazarus. Human decency would lead him to want to help the man, not unlike the Good Samaritan. The abyss is both on earth and in the afterlife. The strange is the man could cross the chasm at any time by offering comfort to Lazurus. It would not have cost him much, but the rewards he would have received would have been life-giving for both men.
David Brooks, in his latest book, writes we have all been fed lies about what makes a good life. Brooks identifies the five biggest lies our culture tells, the ones he sees at the heart of our culture's shared spiritual sickness. He lists them:
1. Career success is fulfilling;
2. I can make myself happy;
3. Life is an individual journey;
4. You have to find your own truth, and
5. Rich and successful people are worth more than poorer and less successful people.
The fifth premise or lie as Brooks would call it is what this parable is expounding. Lazarus is worth no more or no less than the rich man and vice versa. It is when we believe the lie mentioned above we fall into the trap as seeing people as expendable. This parable reminds us that no matter who we are or how much money we have, no one is expendable. We all have merit and worth. Remember, Jesus came to be with all of us, rich, poor, black, white, young, or old. Sometimes that is the hardest lesson for us to learn, especially in a world where your worth and not your character measures everything. We have the power to change the dynamic when we encounter a Lazarus.
A Hole in Our Soul
Today's parable of the Rich Fool is about the emptiness in the life of the rich man who thinks if he builds big enough barns he will be happy and safe. Of course in the last 24 hours, we have learned it couldn't be further from the truth. We have a hole in the souls of our country. People, families shopping getting ready for school. Buying groceries for the week ahead when their lives changed forever. A gunman filled with hate for immigrants opened fire killing men and women. All-day the news covered the tragedy. We wake up this morning with news of another shooting in Dayton. People out enjoying an evening with friends senselessly killed.
Why is always the question asked. Well, it is too late for why with the people who have been shot. We have a hole in the souls of our country. Fed by hate towards the other. What can we do? Is the other question. Well, it is as simple as saying enough. Enough of tolerating racist language or comments made about immigrants. All of us in one sense or another are responsible. When we shrug it off as just the way someone is, we too are culpable. When you receive a racist email about "the other" we shouldn't just delete it, we should reply all to be taken off the list and why.
These are small but important ways we can change our society. Our collective no's will turn the tide of the ugliness so prevalent and accepted in our society. And there is one very important idea to remember which is "Hate has no place here." Say it loud and say it proud.
I was always think of this passage from Luke as a cross between Ernest T. Bass and the Tasmanian Devil. The three share the characteristics of being out of control but also share loneliness. No one wants to be with any of these characters but they so desperately want to have friends. People who are mentally troubled are frightening because they are unpredictable. The switch we use to pull back from hurting someone or becoming violent is turned off for them. They are a harm to themselves and to us. Which is why we tend to avoid them on the street. The same is true for the Gerasene demoniac and the people are so frightened of him, they bind him in chains and sit a guard with him in the graveyard among the tombs Luke writes.
He is for all intents and purposes dead, spiritually and emotionally. Physically cut off from his friends and family. He is entombed by his illness. How many of us are entombed by things in our lives? Addictions to drugs, alcohol, shopping. Things which keep us from having a full and meaningful life. In the book "The Elephant in the Room " Tommy Tomlinson begins his story with the number on the scale: 467 pounds. The book is his year long quest to understand why he has chosen to entomb himself with his weight. Tomlinson tells of his misery at having to use seat belt extenders, to not being able to go on hikes or even his wife's inability to put her arms around him. His story is heart and gut wrenching to read and his honesty is bracing. Through the course of the book, he loses weight slowly and on his own timetable trying to understand how he reached this weight.
We are each in our own ways locked in our own personal tombs. Tombs of sorrow, loneliness, addiction or fear. But the good news in this like the Gerasene demoniac we too can be healed by the presence of Jesus. His healing touch gives us new life and we like the man locked away are free and free to tell about it.