Monday, September 30, 2013

Dogs, fine line, and Chasms

Luke 16:19-31
Usually, we’d begin looking at this text by investigating the context and the verses surrounding the story. We may still do that, but first, I want to know how you feel.

Because I really want to know how EVERYONE feels, (not just those brave enough to speak up in worship) I ask that you Break into groups of 3 or 4.
You’ve heard the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus and the story of their GREAT REVERSALS of fortunes, now 
You tell each other how you feel after hearing them.

Stay in your groups if you would. I’d like to aggregate what we hear, but you may want to compare what you heard among your small group.

What feelings did you identify?

There are many contrasts and reversals. Of course the change in circumstances after death of the two men, the unnamed rich man and Lazarus is remarkable.
1. Unnamed/Rich Named/Poor/ Lazarus
2. Dressed: in purple Dressed: in sores
3. Meals: Feasts sumptously Longs for scraps
4. Both Die (great equalizer)
5. Proper burial Carried away by angels
6. Torment Reclining at table in Abraham’s circle

In the end, Lazarus is looking down from heaven and the former Rich Man is looking up...and begging.

Did you Notice? The story doesn’t say the Rich Man is evil or inherintly wicked because he is wealthy. He is depicted as living as the well-to-do customarily do, admired and envied by all.

Nor does he, (as one commentator put it) “nor does he sponsor legislation to rid the gates of poor peole like Lazarus.”

. . .
He Just . Doesn’t . Notice . Lazarus! . . He doesn’t even see him.

The chasm that divides them in life is like a cloak of invisibility that the poor wear.

 This is not a documentary, it’s a story. Yet Jesus told it to challenge everyone who hears it to ask some questions of ourselves.

What questions come to you?
. . .
A noticed a different kind of identification with a SPECIFIC poor man named Lazarus and a SPECIFIC Rich Man, rather than just the words we often hear about caring for the poor, orphans and widows. 

A scholar point out that, “Rich and poor are not left a vague generalities but are depicted as two men, one inside the gate of abundance and one outside.”(4)

They are close in proximity but one is invisible to the other. . Even in death the Rich Man speaks of Lazarus in the 3rd person, directing him thru Abraham to serve him.

There are some things in this story that really don’t relate to our lives. 
Let’s point out what is different from our day...(what are they?)
Language; some of your translations say bosom of Abraham rather than at his side. We also don’t typically think of ending up with Abraham. But Jesus’ is a Jew, remember and the father of all Jews is Abraham. So reclining at meal with him puts one in Abraham’s closest circle, intimately known. What else?
Dogs, not pets but wild and dangerous scavengers
Heaven and Hell/ well perhaps we all have different ideas of those.
Purple - then, the wearing of purple was regulated by law,and how much one wore indicated their status in the Roman system.

Feasting - we eat well, and we eat every day. But here, Feasting is much more elaborate (than even a COB Potluck) and Doing so EVERY DAY, contrasted to many listeners who might not eat every day, or not more than once/day.

In what ways DOES this story relate to our lives? Where are the similarities?
We have poor, who beg, lay outside, 
We have gated communities, elaborately rich..those who can and do throw money around, flaunting it.
If today, I’m sure the size of the house/mansion would be mentioned and the number and types of vehicles in the driveway.

With differences and similarities, we are aware of the poor. Even if we live in a neighborhood where poor are less visible than places where people sleep on Metro grates, we see poor people on TV, we know where people are hungry behind the outer walls of a home.

And we know about global suffering. . And just maybe...we are better than ever at ignoring it. 
As if there existed a Chasm that we can barely see across.

Actually we do know about a great chasm; the ‘ever-widening gap between rich and poor’.  We hear about it, we may even feel it, and mostly we may feel we can’t do anything about it.

Maybe we don’t have the power to do any more than METHPHORICALLY throw a few shovelfulls of dirt or handfulls of money into the Great Divide in an attempt to fill it, . . .but do we ever think about crossing it?

Maybe we get used to being voyeurs, watching only from the other side of the chasm. One person said, ‘the more we see, the more we get accustomed to being observers and the more impotent we are to act.’

Yet Jesus’ story seems to say, “if we do not cross the divide in this life, we won’t be able to in the next one.” (3)

. . .
Even when we recognize this chasm/divide
We seldom know what to do. 
Is it different when the indefined poor are someone you know by name?
When we really see an individual, what do we feel then?
And what do we do?

Can we interupt the cycle of observing, feeling bad, and then insulating ourselves from feeling anything more because of our inability to FIX the problem?

What might we do to interupt our tendency to turn away?

Young woman from Germany, serving as volunteer. No money to give but when someone, we’d call a ‘street-person’ greeted her, she responded hello. Looked him in the eye and continued the conversation. His response?
He thanked her for speaking to him, for acknowledging his presence, for seeing him.
. . 
I guess he spends most of his day invisible to the rest of us, separated by a great divide. 
(perhaps even the company of dogs was better for Lazarus than being ignored by fellow humans...)

 I began today by asking, ‘what did you feel?’

As one who likes to disregard her feelings, I’m asking us to promise each other to be a communal reminder that our feelings CAN call us back to our shared humanity.

When we see someone, get to know their name, we do what we can. - whatever small thing that is.

Even if we can’t fix ALL poverty, we can help the person at our gates, whomever it is, with something as simple as a hello, or a meal.
We HAVE done that as a community! 
And we we did, our perception of what causes poverty and how one can get out of it, became a complicated as our feelings about what we should do.

We can continue to walk across the great divide and support each other in doing so. (Walk across using the buddy system to help give us the courage we need.)

So we will SEE people --whether poor or begging-- as PEOPLE, not as circumstances to blame, but humans in need. Most of all treating ‘Lazarus’ in whatever form he appears as a brother, a sister, an equal human being. 

We CAN do something more than just ‘feel bad’. 

And if you will help ME to do this, I will help you. Together we can move from feeling helpless to being powerful workers and advocates for Jesus’-style justice...

And we will become more human than ever.. 
And maybe we’ll even build a bridge across that chasm.


1 Charloes Cousar Feasting On The Word - exegetical, Bartlett and Taylor, eds. (Louisville:WJK,2010)117
2 Boring and Craddock  People’s NT Commentary (Louisville:WJK,2004)244
3 Cousar p.119
4 Scott Badee-Saye Feasting p.118
5 Boring and Craddock People’s NT Commentary (Louisville:WJK,2004)241

6 ibid p. 118
7 G. Penny Nixon Feasting Homelitical p. 119

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