Jesus tells us a parable, another parable.
There was a rich man who dressed like royalty in beautiful, purple robes and fine linens. He was so wealthy he had no need to work. Everyday was a feast day at his house; his dining table was laden with platters of delicious foods. He is not named in this story.
At his gate lay a poor man, dirty, unclean and covered with sores. He is in such bad shape, he can't even resist the dogs which lick at the open infections on his body. He is so very hungry he would give anything for only the crumbs from the rich man's table. His name is Lazarus.
These two men are neighbors. As Lazarus lay at the gate, begging, the rich man would have to step over or walk around him as he went out or came in.
Both men die. Lazarus is carried by the angels not to just any seat beside Abraham, but to the very bosom of Abraham, truly a place of great honor. On the other hand, the rich man finds himself in hell, tormented by flames. He catches sight of Lazarus far away enjoying his privileged place.
During his entire life the rich man had been attended by household servants, so without hesitation he called out to Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a bit of cool water to soothe his fiery tongue. "It is not possible", answers Abraham, "for there is too great a chasm between us." "No one is able to pass from here to there or from there to here." "Well then," pleads the rich man, "can't you at least send Lazarus to my five brothers so they might be spared this horrible fate?" "Sorry," replies Abraham, "they should listen to Moses and the prophets." "But what it they don't listen, yet surely they would be convinced should someone goes to them from the dead."
Abraham refuses the desperate pleas of the rich man. "If they are so hard hearted they won't listen to Moses and the prophets they're not going to be convinced by someone rising from the dead."
I wonder about this rich man, there is no mention of wickedness, no evidence of fraud or oppression of the poor. If one enjoys a comfortable life style, what's the harm in that?
In my family, I have two cousins, who became wealthy by very different paths. One began driving a log truck immediately after graduation from high school. The other graduated from a university with a degree in electrical engineering. They each worked hard, put in long hours and at retirement were owners of very successful businesses. Wealth did not change either of them; they never flaunted their status nor over indulged in conspicuous consumption. I have always admired them not for the accumulation of wealth but for the way they managed to remain humble, they never set themselves apart or above their families or friends.
Why does Jesus consistently condemn those of wealth and privilege? The reading from Timothy reminds us that not money, but love of money is the root of evil. The rich man obviously loves to impress others, robing himself in purple and fine linen. But, more than that, he does not even see the suffering of Lazarus nor is he in anyway affected by the plight of a starving beggar right outside his gate. It is only the boundaries of his property, a fence and a gate that separate the two neighbors, yet it might as well have been a great chasm such as separated the two after death. A distance so great the rich man can scarcely see Lazarus.
What might have caused this chasm, this great abyss between the rich man and Lazarus? We can assume the rich man was a Pharisee, a respected interpreter of the Law, one who knew well the rules of cleanliness. Therefore, he was not required to help. Religious law would regard the man with leprosy as ritually unclean, no one would be obligated to touch him or talk to him or help him. So in some instances the law itself created a boundary between fellow humans. However we know Jesus cut through these divisions with compassion for others.
I know there must be needy families in Montesano but I don't see them, do you? It has been said because there are few low rent housing units or services here many simply cannot afford to live here. Does that mean our community is inhospitable to the least of these?
Because our recent donation of school supplies was received with enthusiastic gratitude, there surely are many children entering classrooms without the basic materials needed.
I wonder if we are responsible for many invisible divisions within our world. The problems seem so overwhelming it may be easier to turn away, chose not to see or look upon the unfortunate ones. Yet anytime we refuse to see each other as brothers and sisters we have created a barrier between them and us.
This behavior is hurtful all the way around. Isolating ourselves from our sisters and brothers doesn't really protect us, it just denies us the opportunity to see more clearly the face of Jesus in all people.
Albert Schweitzer, who died in 1965, is recognized for his considerable talents as theologian, pastor, musician, philosopher and physician and especially for his untiring service to others. He and his wife devoted many years as medical missionaries in Africa. Responding to Jesus call to bring the gospel of peace, justice and compassion to the world he founded a hospital for victims of leprosy and African sleeping sickness.
Albert and Helene Schweitzer relieved the suffering of thousands through their medical ministry. They recognized the face of Jesus in those they served, they did not look away.
Anytime we diminish others, we diminish ourselves. We do great harm to our very souls to live this way, to behave in a way that isolates us from one another and from God.
We were not made to live this way. We were not made for this. We were not made to be separated from one another by any sort of gate or fence or wall or gully or chasm. God made us to be united one with another in community.
There are hard words in Jesus' parables with no cracks in the story that allow us to tip toe around the edges.
Jesus said you have the Law and the Prophets, you know the Great Commandment to love God, neighbor and self, and you have me. Through Jesus' very life, death and resurrection he shows us that no divide is so deep or so wide that it cannot be unified in his grace. AMEN.