Weekly Gospel Reflection -- 29 September 2013
“There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.
“The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’
“The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”
Occupy Wall Street. We’ve seen the footage. We’ve read the news reports. The protest was made public in the fall of 2011 when a group of people camped out at Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street District of New York City. The main issues cited by the movement were “social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the...influence of corporations on government -- particularly from the financial services sector.” In other words, OWS claimed, the government is controlled by the wealthiest people -- the 1% -- leaving the rest of us -- the 99% -- to struggle to make ends meet. The wealthiest seem to pay less (percentage wise) than everyone else when they could (and some say “should”) be paying more. Those who stand the chance of losing it all are the ones with the greatest burden and are powerless against the system.
What’s worst is the wealthiest don’t seem to care. They just go on about their way without a single thought as to the plight of those with less. I’m sure we’ve all heard the comments, “They choose to be that way. The could get a job. They’ve squandered all of their money on drugs and alcohol. There are places they could get assistance. They’re just milking the system.” These are the stories we tell ourselves to make us feel better. To make us feel justified in our thoughtlessness for our fellow brothers and sisters.
While the protest got international coverage, it also got a lot of backlash. Several people began pointing out how the “99%” were dressed in nice clothes and had “expensive” personal technology (iPads, smartphones, etc.). This meant that, obviously, these people weren’t suffering too badly.
But, in my estimation, that argument is like the slight of hand by an illusionist. She distracts you with doing something deliberate over here, and while you’re paying attention to that, she does something else. Then, when that other thing appears, it’s like magic! The protesters saw it the same way.
So, nothing’s done. Nothing changes. It’s still the “same ol’, same ol’.” The same day in and day out. The wealthiest continue to get more and more wealth while the gap between the 1% and the rest of us grows wider. “They’ll get theirs, one day,” someone says. “They’ll have to answer for their crimes.” This seems to say that, yes, while things are bad for the 99% now, “in the sweet by and by” we’ll be given great reward and the wealthy 1% will suffer. The tables will be turned one day. We just have to hold on to that.
As we can see from this week’s lesson, that’s not a new thought. The story Jesus tells works out the same way. But there’s a twist. Usually, the story ends with poor being blessed in the afterlife and the rich suffering. But Jesus’ story doesn’t end there. His story ends with resurrection. Why is that? Is it just a ploy by Luke to reflect the church’s belief in the resurrection? I don’t think so.
As we’ve mentioned before, the stories Jesus tells usually follow something he’s doing. In this case, as we’ve been noticing in these last few lessons from Luke, the Religious Elite (i.e., the 1% of the day), were put off by Jesus hanging out with the wrong people -- the 99%. They were all flocking to Jesus and the 1% were getting a little worried. I mean, if things continued the way they’re going, they might lose everything.
But the end of Jesus’ story is that the resurrection, the life of G-d’s coming age, was a present reality. It wasn’t something that is being postponed into the far distant future. It was happening then -- right before their eyes! The reason he was enjoying the company of the 99% was because G-d’s promised Realm was unfolding within history, not at history’s end! Jesus’ story is pointed directly at the Religious Elite of his day and warning them to change their hearts and lives while they still can before it’s too late.
Now I know what we’re all thinking. (Okay, what I’m thinking.) “Those poor misguided Pharisees. Couldn’t they see what was going on? I’m sure glad I’m not like that. I’m sure glad I’ve got all my ducks in a row.” But the story isn’t just about them. It’s about us. Are we living in ways that makes others wonder what the heck we’re doing? That is, are our actions reflecting G-d’s Realm “on earth as in heaven?” Do our lives reverberate with the belief that G-d’s realm (the promised future of the cosmos) was established in and through Jesus? That it’s been expanding from that time, through the present, and progressing toward the future? The goal of creation’s future is not annihilation but complete restoration -- of the time when heaven finally and fully comes to earth and they become one (Revelation 21). The story before us was told because Jesus was living out that future -- the belief that the “time promised by G-d [had] come at last” (Mark 1.15). Do we share this vision? If so, are we living in such a way as to show that this is our vision, too? Are we doing what we can now to reflect that future?
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC