Readings, Luke 16:19-31 and 1 Timothy 6: 6-19
This week many will have seen the story of the 200+ stranded whales on the beach in Tasmania, and the efforts to return as many as possible to the ocean. An emotional story, to see such large, majestic beasts trapped and unable to return and the water. I celebrated each creature saved and felt somewhat grieved at the loss of the others… after which I went and cooked chicken schnitzels for the family and thought not a moment about it.
It is strange the way we become conditioned to tiers of care, taught to become insulated to one kind of animal’s death, while connecting emotionally to another – it's the long story of humanity that we are able to compartmentalise the creatures around us, some pets, some food, some labour… And yet, that is not just the story of humans and their relationships with animals, for we are also are readily conditioned to see the suffering of some people as unbearable (requiring great action and grief), and other cases of human suffering as natural (or, perhaps more accurately, we are able to become conditioned to see some suffering and not see the other). To some degree this is required, there are days to be lived and tasks to be completed, we cannot be sent reeling by every sad face, or sad tale… but we mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that there aren’t nefarious forces at work in our conditioning, aren’t demons prowling beneath the decision of whose suffering to see, and whose to pass by.
Jesus tells a parable.
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 Lazarus, 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 two men die, and poor Lazarus is carried away by angels to be with Abraham, while the rich man descended to Hades. A great chasm has been fixed between two, such that no relief can come, such that no word can bring change.
Yet, the great chasm between their afterlives is not the only chasm to exist between Lazarus and the rich man in the story. For the great chasm of inequality existed in their earthly lives. This chasm insulated the rich man from his fellow, allowing Lazarus’ suffering to go unseen and unaddressed. The great gulf between rich and poor existed at the time of Jesus’ teaching, and has, sadly only gotten wider today. The world’s wealth is held by fewer and fewer individuals and, economists and historians confirm that the gap in our time is unprecedented. To give an example, if I decided to knock on your door every morning and say “here’s a thousand dollars” and every day we repeated that little exchange I would need to knock on your door and hand over a thousand dollars every morning for 2749 years in order for you to have one billion dollars (that’s 700+ more years since the time Christ told this parable). And that’s just to get you one billion dollars, which is nothing compared to the 276 billion that the richest man on earth is currently worth.
Timothy warns the church, the love of money is the root of all evils, for such wealth insulates you from the world, it twists priorities, expectations, experiences, such that one becomes increasingly walled up, inattentive to those dying at your gates. The love of money twists minds and hardens hearts such that a person is unable to be reached by the law, the prophets, and the gospel of one raised from the dead.
Jesus teaches his followers that they will find him present when they feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty… and when they ignore those suffering such material poverty they ignore him. And so the rich man, who was able to create a chasm between himself and the of the world, who was able to erect a gate between himself and those dying while he feasted, those naked while he wore fine linen, has found that he has placed a chasm between himself and God.
Such a chasm can only be overcome through the rich man’s death – though not the death we hear in the story, not the death that ends life – but rather the death that leads to the life. This is the kind of death we proclaim in baptism, where we die to Christ and rise with him to follow after him.
This is a dying to the self-sufficient, self-preserving, self-aggrandising self. This is a dying to a life measured in building up larger and larger storehouses to keep safe our surplus, and a choosing of the life that finds its purpose in the love of neighbour. This is a dying to life that is able to compartmentalising the suffering of the poor, that is able to justify the poverty and inequality as just the way things are, too big to solve and not big enough to worry about. It is the conversion to the way of God; a dying with Christ and a rising into the life that truly is life – which for some requires the parting with worldly wealth so as to not be apart from one’s humanity, one’s fellows, one’s God.
The rich man – after demanding Lazarus offer him service even in Hades – asks for word to be sent to his family so they may be spared the same fate. And yet, Abraham reminds him, they had Moses and the prophets (and there is a wealth of teaching in both that calls for the equal distribution of wealth, the release from debts, providing for the widow, orphan, and the poor) and yet that was not enough! And so too, Abraham says, it will not be enough even if they hear testimony of one who rose from the dead… to which Jesus, in telling this parable, refers to himself – who again, like Moses and the Prophets, is too often ignored by his own followers when it comes to teachings about money (something Timothy and many since have struggled against).
And yet, friends, we have before us today Moses and the Prophets, and we have the testimony of one who was raised from the dead. Let us heed these words in our own time, so that we might cross those chasms. Let us encourage and care for one another enough that we might relinquish that which incubates and isolates us from the suffering of others, so that we might work with Christ to break down the dividing walls of hostility and fling open the gates which hold so many in perpetual poverty. May we take up the charge of confronting and overcoming such chasms in our time, battling inequality, poverty, and greed. Let us, as Timothy encourages, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness, and be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share. May we prayerfully and faithfully fight back the creeping love of money in our own lives and in our society - not only for the good of our neighbours but for the good of our mortal souls. Let us die daily with Christ, trusting the provision of God, and cross the chasms the world creates, so that we might take hold of the life that truly is life! It is not easy, but that shouldn’t deter us, we are followers of one raised from the dead – no chasm is too wide for those found in his name.
Image: Inequality, Elizabeth Coyle, 2020
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