In Jesus’ story there was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day and then there was Lazarus. Lazarus should come as no surprise to us at all. We see Lazarus every day. Lazarus was sick, “Covered with sores,” probably from malnutrition. Lazarus longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. In other words, Lazarus didn’t even get the scraps and even the dogs would come and lick his sores. Two human beings, tied together by a story.
The rich man must have had a hand in the plight of Lazarus. He may have tried to isolate himself but he could neither go in nor out of his house without passing right by Lazarus, who lay, because he didn’t have the strength to sit or stand, at the rich man’s gate. Lazarus was tied to the rich man by his need and his desire just to have something of what fell from the rich man’s table.
According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told this story to those who loved money and all that money could buy for them. But not even the walls we build can separate us from plight of the poor. whether we like it or not perhaps this story is about us. Perhaps we don’t like to think of ourselves as wealthy, we like to look at the millionaires/billionaires/the Kardashian and point at them and say it’s them, they are the rich ones not us. This story is for them not us. According to guardian about 2.1 million Kiwis out of the population of just over 5 million are in the top5% of global wealth holders about 281,000 of those are in top 1%. The gap between renters and owners, have and have nots are widening. So, it brings me to a question I ask myself. Am I rich? Or maybe I should ask myself am I poor? It seems that even on my modest pastor’s stipend I am considered rich beyond the wildest dreams of most of the people on this planet. When I put it in perspective, my basic needs are met/I go on holidays and I have enough to help others. Every day I thank God that all my resources is from God and I am expected it wisely. And just like the rich man in Jesus’ story if we ignore the poor people on this planet we too will end up in hell. In the opening statement of the UN general assembly, the UN chief in his opening address has this to say” Our world is in peril and paralyzed. Poverty, war, climate change. We cannot go on like this. we are not ready or willing to tackle this. trust is crumbling, inequalities are exploding and the planet is burning.” And in my own words, a living hell.
In the stories that have been handed down to us, Jesus, the image of hell appears alongside salvation. what does it mean by hell. Hell. I don’t think it is that mythic place down below where Satan is busy tormenting poor souls as they stoke the fires. I believe that Hell is about being as far from salvation as you can get. Hell is about being broken in body, mind and spirit, and severing our relationships with God and creation and with our neighbours. Hell is not a place we go to in the afterlife. Hell is here on earth.
I believe that if we ignore people who the needs of people/the groaning of creation waiting to be liberated we end up in hell. Despite every wall that we put up we are connected to the poor and creation. Who are the poor among us? There is no excuse for ignorance.
Every time we buy a product, or a shirt, or a pound of coffee, we participate in a relationship with the poor and creation.
There are millions of Lazarus’s out there, at our gates, right now and most of them are longing to eat the crumbs from our tables. I don’t think the rich man in Jesus’ story is not what we would call evil.
There is no evidence that he ever did anything cruel to the poor man. He simply ignored him. The rich man had become so accustomed to seeing the poor man at his gate, he no longer noticed him. I don’t think he was intentionally mean.
The primary message of this parable is all too clear—painfully, even frighteningly clear. Ignore the needs of others and we end up in a hell of a mess here on earth. There are destructive and painful consequences that come—not just from doing the bad deeds we ought not to have done, but also from failing to do the good deeds we should have done. The rich man found himself trapped in hell not because of the evil he had intentionally done but because of the good he had failed to do because of his insensitivity that grew out of his self-centeredness.
If our lives are to avoid being a living hell, then we need to open our eyes so that we can see the needs that are at our gates. The world has become a dangerous place, but it seems to me that we who are rich/by the grace of God have to take some responsibility for the creation of those dangers. Perhaps we have turned our heads away and insisted that it is not our responsibility or we have become so numb by the sheer numbers of people living in poverty that we have turned away in desperation.
Poverty has become a breeding ground for terrorists/exploitation/violence and illegal trade.
There is another image that sits in this text (Salvation) I believe that Jesus was deeply concerned for our salvation. Salvation of humanity and creation. Salvation to me is deliverance, restoration, healing the brokenness between humanity and creation. Deliverance from sinful harmful practices towards humanity and the planet we call home. So that people can lead the abundant life. Fixing what is broken and recreating a world where people can live the /fruitful lives where their basic necessity of life. Jesus told this story not to condemn us but to save us; to restore us to heath by healing our relationships with humanity and creation. In the story that Jesus told, Abraham explains to the rich man that there is nothing that can be done to help his brothers because there is such a wide chiasm between the rich man and poor Lazarus. It is so wide that no one can cross it. so, where is the message of hope.
In Christ, who embodies the Love that is God, the chiasm has a way to bridge the gap. Christ is our bridge. We have the ability to see the needs of others and we have the ability to act. We really can be the people God intends us to be. But it will not happen if we allow ourselves to be overcome and numbed by the sheer magnitude of the needy.
The world is in a hell of a mess. But all is not lost. we can be the bridge of salvation between the have and have nots. We can go out to our gates and see who is there, and what they need and out of the abundance of gifts that God has showered upon us we can supply the needs of those who are longing for us to extend our arms across that chiasm.
Who are at our gates? How do be we be that Bridge of Salvation for people whose lives are a living hell.