A parable of separation 092913
Think back to that psalm today. Isn’t it beautiful?
I imagine the rich man in today’s story would have thought it lovely….protected, cared for etc…I am soooo blessed
I imagine the beggar Lazarus would have thought it a joke. Where’s my protection and care? Seems like I’m cursed.
It seems unfair, doesn’t it.
Yet in Jesus’ day fairness wouldn’t have entered into the picture. As Jesus began to tell the story…..a rich man….and a beggar….his listeners would have been nodding their heads, and said, yeah that’s the way it is….this rich man is wealthy therefore he’s been favoured by God, he’s a good guy, and the poor guy – well, he must be a sinner, because the poor are cursed. It says so in scripture. It’s right there in Deuteronomy
And that’s just how life was then; in Jesus’ day there was no ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’, or making money as a rung on the social class ladder. The chasm, the gap, was already permanent in everyone’s eyes. But the story doesn’t end there, for God’s eyes see differently.
So Jesus continues…the rich man dies and is stuck in the place of the dead, and the beggar ends up ‘gathered to his ancestors’.
(BTW this is not a cinematic preview about heaven and hell—later centuries read that into the story to suit the church’s own purposes but that’s another sermon—it’s about separation, even among the people of God—a parable set in the context of Jewish faith, but addressed to early Christians to challenge their and now maybe our, assumptions also)
This is a shocking reversal of expectations, challenge to assumptions, it would have been even antagonistic to cultural mores of Jesus’ listeners. You mean I can’t appeal to my religious heritage? that traditional beliefs are wrong? What about where it says in the Bible….you know, Moses and the prophets and all that.
Well, yes, if you pick and choose how you live out the beliefs and the scriptures. The common interpretation of scripture that the rich are those blessed by God and the poor those who are cursed, is set on its tail by Jesus. The whole idea of who’s in and who’s out is up for grabs.
It’s another kin-dom parable that takes what we think scripture says, and the ways we interpret it, and exposes it for the self- and social-preservation tool we’ve made it. Jesus, if we look back a few verses, tells this story as response to the Pharisees, the good religious folk just like us, who objected to his last parable about the dishonest steward.*remember how that went over last week?)
We can find just about anything we want in scripture; I do it just by standing here speaking!
And Jesus keeps changing the interpretation in front of our eyes. For God’s eyes see differently.
With this story Jesus turns scripture upside down and makes them remember OTHER sacred texts about caring for the poor lifting then up in fact---Jesus comes down on the side of the ‘cursed’. Wow.
Is it that different today? What we have in the way of wealth, or possessions, or don’t have, defines us in our own eyes, in the eyes of others and society in general. The gaps aren’t just financial, but when they are, they become geographic as they did in this parable….. Our possessions affect our sight so that we don’t really have to see the beggar at our gate; we separate ourselves into nicer communities. And when we do come across a Lazarus, how well do we see?
Nate story/Linda’s story
I wish I had really seen HIM, the person…it was a missed opportunity to practice love and noticing
And for both of us it was too late. The distinctions we make are the ever-widening chasm that separates God’s children—between rich and poor, but also within the church as well as between classes, and even, God forgive us, between faiths.
It seems like a sad and damning story. Is there no hope? Well, although our bible story ends there, there is ‘the rest of the story’ that happens now, as we hear it today, in our divided, intentionally separated world.
God’s eyes see differently—scripture is full of a God who sees, who feels compassion, and who acts. God has more hope, more grace, more bridgebuilding capability than father Abraham, who thought nothing, not even a miracle of resurrection, would make any difference.
Because we have Jesus, a resurrected from the dead witness to that dramatic alternative vision of God’s. Don’t we?
It makes a difference to us that Jesus was raised from the dead, and we become the messengers the rich man longed for, the carriers of drops of water across the gap, the feeders of those who’d love crumbs from our sumptuous feasts….. But do we?
Remember how the U.S. and 188 other countries set Millenium Goals? One was to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015—that’s coming up pretty fast. There’s a lot of chasm crossing still to do.
There is some good news….In the last 20 yrs child mortality has dropped almost by half—some of God’s people are crossing the chasm one small act at a time. But still, every 4 seconds someone dies of starvation. For an awful lot of us, the resurrection of Jesus hasn’t changed us one whit; the grace and compassion of God we take for granted for ourselves alone…we have failed to see our sisters and brothers in God’s family across the chasm or outside the gate, so we have failed to enter into community with them and chosen to remain in isolation.
God asks us, do you see what I see? Do you see your own abundance? Your isolation?
Do you see the beggar, let alone his sores or the dogs’ saliva?
Do you see the chasm, the separation—do you see it as permanent and preferred duality? Or an opportunity for bridge-building?
The cross, and the empty tomb, offer us a bridge, excuse the pun, to cross over……to bring a message to those who need to hear of Moses and the prophets and Jesus, the word of hope, and who can bring water, literally and spiritually, to a thirsty world.
I believe that the God of scripture who sees the gap, feels the separation, and acts to bring relief and reconciliation, also seeks to close the gap that seems so permanent to our biased eyes.
Will we take up the challenge? Will we see as God sees, and act on it? Can we see with the eyes of God, the eyes of compassion?