September 26, 2010


Between us and you a great chasm is established. – Luke 16: 26

The contrasting details in this parable are quite strong. The rich man is dressed in royal purple. The only purple Lazarus has is his ulcerated sores. The rich man has plenty to eat. Lazarus has to compete for food with the dogs. We are not told how either of them came to be the way they were.

We must not assume the rich man got that way by dishonest means. Being rich is not itself a moral fault, for in the Bible possessions in themselves are not good or evil. What counts is what one does with them, & this is where the rich man fails. His fault was his self-indulgence fostered by his moral blindness.

This is where the parable escalates, uncomfortably so, into our own lives. We do not like to admit it, but we too are caught in a self-indulgent world. It’s not just the gross realities like Leona Helmsley leaving her dog $12 million or the $300 million yachts or that human beings have also become commodities so that we can buy human ova & sperm, trade in human organs & sell persons, otherwise known as trafficking. It’s not just these gross realities.

It’s that Lazarus still lives & we don’t like to admit that. He lives in the children who are dying each day from hunger, abuse, disease & neglect; in the refugees displaced by war & repressive governments; in the homeless on the streets; in the hospitals & nursing homes where no one visits; in those uninsured & in the one billion really poor of this globe at the bottom of the pile.

And then there’s the door: “and lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus.” The door, the gate, the barrier so the one doesn’t see the other. Out of sight, out of mind. It often is not even physical. The rich man lives in a social cocoon. He lives in a gated community, socializes with his circle of like-minded friends, & lives with a very strong sense of entitlement – just as we do. They never met a really poor person. How could they?

They are decent people. That is not the issue, which is, behind the high walls of privilege & high consumerism they are blind to the needs of others. The parable is telling us it should not be that way for anyone. Every now & then – like now when we are apart from our homes & toys & under the scrutiny of the Lord – we should look up from our affluence & notice Lazarus.

We don’t see him because we also live in a highly segregated society. We are balkanized into low-scale or upscale housing developments, socially defined neighborhoods, day care & nursing homes, school systems & brand names. We live in a country where, combined, the top 400 wealthiest people have as much money as the lowest 210 million. Warren Buffett once said at a $4,600 a seat fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton, “The 400 of us pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning lady for that matter. If you’re in the luckiest 1% of humanity, you owe it to the rest to think about that other 99%.”

That is what our Gospel today is telling us: Think about that 99%. Open the gate. Lower the bridge. Notice Lazarus, & then, to the best of your ability, do something about him. AMEN!