Proper 21, Year C
I have two confessions to make:
The first is that this week is kicking my proverbial butt. New semester at seminary, an unusual (especially for this time of year) concentration of freelance work, the launch of a new physical fitness regimen, and a great deal of pastoral care following the House of Bishops meeting, about which so many were so anxious, has brought me to Thursday night with little extra time to write.
But I have had time to think, and even thinking long and hard about this Sunday's gospel, I think that if I were preaching this Sunday, I would say much the same thing I said last time it came up in the lectionary:
The hard, hard thing in this passage is that the rich man is not described as being ungenerous. For all we know, he was very generous indeed; in any case, the Gospel of Luke treats the rich man's generosity or lack thereof, as well as the rich man's attitude toward money, toward dependence on God, and everything else going on in the rich man's head and heart as being immaterial to the story. So the moral of the story is NOT that as long as I'm generous, or I know I'm really dependent on God, or I'm sufficiently grateful, or I feel sufficiently sad or guilty about my having so much and others having so little, it's totally fine that I am rich and others are poor -- at least a billion so poor that they have no access to clean drinking water, nourishing food, or any chance of changing their situation unless there is profound systemic change in our world. Luke does not give us room to think that.
The hard word in this Sunday's gospel is that we have, in our fallen way of doing things, responded to poverty, sickness, age, vulnerability, and just plain difference by running away from those who remind us of what we fear. Since we can't run far or fast enough, we dig chasms between us. The poor live on one side of the tracks or the river or the freeway, and the rich on another. The poor go to one church, and the rich go to another. The poor are objects of church "outreach programs"; the rich are church members and leaders. You could add to this catalogue of chasms, I know. We build them around all kinds of categories: race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, respectability ... the list could go on and on.
And the truth is that whenever we dig such chasms, and especially when we seek to make them unbridgeable, we can be very, very sure that we're on the wrong side of it.
This behavior is hurtful all the way around. Isolating ourselves from our sisters and brothers in the human family doesn't make us less vulnerable; it just denies us the opportunity to see and experience that much more of the image of God. It makes us miserable. It does violence to our souls to live this way as it inflicts violence on the bodies and families of the "have-nots."
We were not made for this. And we have a name for behaving in a way that isolates us from one another and from God. We religious types call it "sin."
It's Good News, though, that we were not made for this. The Good News is that even as we look at our lives, our world, and all the ways we can feel trapped in them the way they are, a part of us knows we were not made for this. The Good News is that just as we're ready to cry with St. Paul in Romans, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?," we can still hear God's call:
Thanks be to God -- when we separated ourselves from one another and from God, God sent the prophets to plead, to shout, to remind us that God made us for justice and peace in community.
Thanks be to God -- in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection shows us that no human power can dig a chasm too broad or deep to be bridged in God's grace.
There is a hard word in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, but there is also an invitation to engage God's mission of healing, justice, and reconciliation in the world. And the marvelous thing -- well, one of the wonders I keep discovering as I seek to follow Jesus -- is that the cool water for which the rich man longs, the peace and freedom and joy that Lazarus enjoys as God's gift, is available to us now -- partially and sometimes fleetingly, but REALLY, a taste of grace that nourishes hope -- whenever we seek justice for the poor, whenever we strive to live in reconciled and reconciling community.
Thanks be to God!
good to read this, as I am preaching on chasms... and how we dig them ourselves... by refusing to see each other as brothers and sisters... and how Jesus was not ashamed or afraid to call us his "sisters and brothers." so you solidified some of my thinking.
Posted by: diane | Sep 27, 2007 11:07:33 PM
Thank you - as predicted, I leaned heavily and it all come together in a rather surprising way, thanks be to God!
Posted by: Kathryn | Sep 30, 2007 7:33:16 AM
One new thought hit me this time around with the text. It's a "reversal of fortunes" story, but there's more. Notice how Jesus names Lazarus but leaves the rich man nameless. In this life it's the other way around. The well-to-do have identities that include names, and then there are the nameless poor. In the Bible that's often a gender thing, named man, nameless woman. Here Jesus gets really subversive. One more way he fills in a chasm?
Posted by: Lawrence | Oct 3, 2007 5:18:40 PM