Originally posted on IgneousQuill.com
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:19-31 NIV
When I was in college at Harding University I was required to take preaching classes. Although I’d been preaching for a few years already at that point, or perhaps for that very reason, I despised taking those classes. I especially disliked making a video of me preaching and refused to watch it. While I was rarely nervous about preaching to a congregation, preaching to a class one day make me shaky. I got through it fine though, and my text was the one I quoted about about the rich man and the beggar. I think my message was good and correct, but I missed the point Jesus was making.
I’ve read articles puzzling out whether this was a literal depiction of hell or a symbolic representation. I’ve heard sermons based on this text that elaborate on the horrors of hell and the need for personal salvation. The day I preached it to my class I focused on the last bit, where Abraham says “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” I talked about how we have the testimony of Scripture, the witness of the apostles and prophets, and despite Jesus having risen from the dead, people still don’t believe.
Well, that’s all essentially true. Putting myself in the mindset of Jesus at that time and in that context, as well as one can do this, it becomes rather obvious that his true focus was on the wicked greed and social inequality that was prevalent in Israel at that time. Why did masses of people follow Jesus around, looking for a meal or a miraculous healing? It wasn’t just the fault of the Romans who occupied their land. It was the result of the collaboration of wealthy Israelites with the foreign powers. They would make loans with high interest, confiscate land taken as collateral and use their influence and other machinations to avoid paying their required taxes, leaving the burden on the poor and uninfluential.
The rich man had a poor, sick man laying at his very doorstep. What did he do to help him? Nothing. Lazarus was starving and even had dogs licking his sores. This is the very picture of misery. The rich man did nothing, and went to the flames of eternity while the poor man was embraced by the noble patriarch of Israel. Notice that, as in the other parables of Jesus, there’s no hard sell to make a decision to accept him and be saved solely for the sake of avoiding hell. What he tells us is that in this life we have many decisions to make, and if someone is in misery right in front of us, how can we do anything other than help? What kind of person lets those in dire need suffer while enjoying the pleasures of wealth?
This past January (2010) there was a massive earthquake in the island nation of Haiti. This country is just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the U.S., making mobilization to help relatively easy. Already sustained largely by outside governmental and non-profit relief and development organizations, Haiti received in those days a massive influx of resources. Now, months later, people are still living in tent cities with limited toilet facilities, scarce food and little concept of hygiene. Disease, now including cholera, spreads easily among our Haitian neighbors. Here we sit in the United States, complaining about a recession that takes our jobs and our homes, but we don’t find ourselves in the place of the people of Haiti. Compared to them, our abundance is excessive.
Never did I ever feel “guilty” about having “so much” compared to the rest of the world. Even when I lived in Brazil I’d see people living under bridges and viaducts, feel bad for them but think, “That couldn’t be me, because I am who I am and was born where I was born, and I didn’t make them poor.” Fine bit of logic, that, but perhaps it’s one of the reasons I wasn’t ready to be in Brazil to stay at the time. My heart wasn’t right.
“Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” – Bob Pierce
The Scriptures time and again remind us that it is central to God’s will that the poor, oppressed and neglected be served by the rest of us, and that the powers and authorities be called to account for their failure to maintain justice. We can argue about capitalism versus socialism, but the world has yet to see a truly free market, and even if we had one I doubt we’d do much better with our social obligations.
Many people pray for, contribute to and go and help in Haiti. Great work is also being done elsewhere in our hemisphere, as in Honduras. My own future work is projected even further south, in Brazil, with a focus on helping poor and at-risk urban youth take advantage of their nation’s emerging economy to get on the grid and find their way out of poverty.
We simply must not turn a blind eye to the needs of those around us, be they on our streets, in our neighborhoods or even in our hemisphere. Will we reach out to those at the gate, sharing our wealth, or will not even the resurrection of Jesus convince us of the reality of his words and the message of the prophets?