19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[a] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.[b] 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 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.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 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 16:19-31 NRSV)
I’m tired of wrestling with money. I’m tired of guilt trips. I’m tired of telemarketers asking me to support this or that cause. I’m tired of our church offering plates running out of money before the end of the month. I’m tired of poverty and seeing people sitting at my gate needing scraps of food. I’m tired of arguments we get into about how deserving the poor are or aren’t.
Mostly, I’m tired of wrestling with God over money and my use of it. I’ve traveled to developing nations and have seen their spiritual lives far surpassing mine while illness and starvation pervade their lives. I’ve given until it hurts and see little to no change.
So, what do I do with this scripture passage? Am I the Rich Man? Living in the USA I know that I personally have more than most people in developing countries. I’m all too aware of the wealth I hold when I see people on the street corners with signs saying, “God Bless You” or “Anything will help.”
Perhaps I’m one of the five brothers. Unaware and in need of an awakening.
Perhaps I’m Lazarus, not physically hungry, but spiritually starved for something to make me feel better about this text.
I want Jesus to make it better. Make this text better. More than that, make poverty history. Just do it! I know you can. After all, you healed all those people; you got money out of a fish’s mouth; you touched peoples’ lives and you still do today. So, come on, Lord. Make this all better.
But, I can’t. I have to figure this out for myself. And I wonder if you, dear reader, are needing the same thing. An ease to the guilt; a wake-up call to a way to serve; a word from our Lord saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
This is a parable. And Jesus loved to exaggerate in his parables. The rich man wasn’t rich. He was super rich. His linen under garments were imported from Egypt. He wore purple robes which only royalty were permitted to buy. He didn’t just eat meals, he “feasted sumptuously every day” (v 19.) His gate wasn’t what you’d find on a cute picket fence. This gate was tall and kept him secure and protected.
Lazarus gets a name. The only time in any of Jesus’ parables, someone gets a name. Not the rich man, but the poor one laying at the gate hoping for crumbs from the table. Lazarus is poor and hungry and covered in yucky sores. Unclean dogs came by to lick his sores in an ultimate act of degradation.
What annoys me is that every morning the rich man sat in his chauffeur-driven limousine and passed through that gate seeing Lazarus sitting there. He even knew his name. What he lacked was compassion. Lazarus wasn’t asking for much. He wanted some food.
I want to step in and clean up his sores, get him medical attention, feed him a decent meal and then find a place for him to live. Yet, all he asked for was food.
As angry as I am with the rich man, though, I can’t help but wonder who’s sitting at my gate? What am I missing as sail past them on the way to worship or that important meeting? Am I any better than the rich man?
Who sits at my gate? Victims of human trafficking. Unwanted Syrian immigrants in Europe. The marginalized mentally ill. Victims of war in Palestine and Israel. Sidelined undocumented aliens in America, invited here by big farm business for cheap labor and demonized by the unknowing American population.
Who sits at my gate? The hungry in my community. The poor trying to get through this life one day and one problem at a time. Today it’s the electric bill. Tomorrow it’ll be the rent. The following day food for their children.
So while I’m tired and angry, perhaps it’s time for me to realize that I’m not the Messiah. And neither are you. Jesus warned us that the poor would always be with us, so there’s no use in wasting energy asking Jesus to snap his fingers and make it better.
It isn’t up to me or you to solve the problem, but to be a part of the solution. In today’s world, getting involved usually means with money. Shipping food is wasteful; sending money to buy food from local Food Banks is smart.
If it isn’t up to us to solve the problem, it’s up to us learn about it. What bugs you? Learn about it. Scour the internet, go to the library. Read what your church or denomination is saying about it. Learn everything you can about it. And while you’re doing that, pray. Pray for discernment. Pray for the victims. Pray for the victimizers (yes, even the perpetrators.)
Then share what you’ve learned with others. Let them know what you’ve learned so that they’ll pass it along. The wife of one of my colleagues in the community where I serve attended a state-level conference on human trafficking. Our state has a major confluence of Interstate Highways that is a major source of trafficking. She got involved and spread the word through our Ministerial Alliance and the local Rotary Club. She provided parents with a list of websites that attempt to attract teenagers into sexual servitude. She made a difference.
Give. Give what you can no matter the size. God will multiply it like loaves and fishes.
At the beginning of this blog I shared what I’m tired of. Perhaps what tires me the most is the energy we spend being angry. Jesus’ central teachings had to do with compassion and mercy and generosity and hospitality and justice. These aren’t passive activities. They call on each of us to keep active.
Compassion for those we don’t understand. Mercy to those we most dislike. Generosity to those who need it the most. Hospitality and welcome to those who don’t look or act like us. Justice for the sidelined and the victim.
Most of all, check out the gatekeepers around you. Those who give regularly to social agencies active in feeding the hungry and serving the poor. Those who spend time at the local elementary school tutoring children. The DHS workers who burn themselves out caring for abused children and the elderly. The teacher who works long hours to bring her lessons alive to her students. The soldier who tries to make a difference in an Iraqi community. The nurse who spends a little more time than he should with a patient in need of more than medical care.
Are you a gatekeeper? What are you doing? Take careful inventory. You may discover that you’re providing spiritual support to those you meet. You may discover you have a desire to learn and do more. Whatever the case, don’t just be tired of the neediness at your gate. Acknowledge it. Learn from it. Pray over it.
God will lead you where you can make the most difference.
All glory and honor be to God.