Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wealthy Expectations

If you are of the "have" set, you might get a little uncomfortable with this next bit from Luke's gospel and on the menu for most Anglican and Catholic churches tomorrow morning.

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz'arus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Laz'arus by his side. He called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Laz'arus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Laz'arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'--Luke 16:19-27a

This is not the end of the gospel reading, but I'm going to interrupt here. There is the obvious message here about the rich vs. the poor... or as I started with framing this discussion: the haves versus' the have-nots. But as I read the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus, I see in our current world even more than just the rich being willfully oblivious to the poor people sitting at the edge of their gated communities. "Poor" people today could be more than the homeless; the middle and working classes are increasingly falling behind. To me, this parable is also speaking to how those with any kind of privilege can become so attached to their comfort that they are unable to see the disparities and the suffering of those around them. That blindness leads to taking it for granted that everyone has the same access to the perks. Certainly, I have run into this with straight friends who don't understand such simple truths of my life such as my lack of health insurance. "Your partner works for the state. Can't you be on her plan?" Ummm... no, because the state refuses to recognize our relationship so the insurance companies don't either!

Ahh... but I've interrupted this gospel lesson... let's see what else the rich man asks of Abraham and Laz'arus...

He said, "Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers--that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, "No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"--Luke 16: 27b-31

Ouch!!! If they wouldn't listen to Moses and the prophets of old... do you think they'll listen and hear the warnings issued by one who rises from the dead (in the story, that would be Laz'arus... but this would also seem to reference Jesus)? Moral of the story: if you are of the "have" set, there is no time like the present to get with the program and share what you have with those who have not!
Expand that out: if you are in a class of people who currently enjoy power, clout, wealth of any kind... how are you using that wealth you have? Are you keeping it for yourself and storing up more and more here on this earth? Or are you using what you have to effect real change for the betterment of all people?

Paul notes in his letter to Timothy:

...there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.--1 Timothy 6: 6-10

Pains that, according to the gospel, can lead to eternal thirst and life on the perpetual hot seat! I am not trying to glorify the poor: being a have-not of any kind is a crappy place to be, and I think it is wrongheaded to read these words from Scripture as "Don't worry, you poor and downtrodden masses. You'll get your reward when you're dead and singing with the Heavenly chorus." I don't think the message is for the poor. It is for the rich. Your wealth comes with an expectation, and there is a price for being oblivious. So, stewards of wealth, what are you going to do with all that you have?

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