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Title: Lazarus: ‘The One Whom God Helps’
Preacher: Rev’d Canon Dr Peniel Rajkumar
Date: Sunday 25 September 11am
Be present with us Jesus Christ the living Word, and speak to us now through your life-giving and life-changing word.
Moral questions around wealth and poverty have persistently challenged the Christian conscience. What better passage to help us reflect on this theme than the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. The parable in my opinion offers us some useful frameworks to reflect upon riches and poverty.
So, where do we start? Perhaps the name Lazarus itself – which is commonly understood to mean “the one whom God helps”. And who does God help? The one who is excluded from the tables of prosperity, whose poverty is so tragic that he dies longing not for a place in the rich man’s table but for the crumbs that would fall under it.
The first framework that the parable offers for us to reflect upon wealth and poverty, is the framework of a compassionate God, whose identity is rooted in justice. We find a God who indicts a world order which allows the rich to remain rich and the poor to remain poor, and thinks it can carry on with business as usual unmindful of those who like Lazarus die of poverty, starvation, malnutrition, homelessness and unemployment.
This is also the picture of God that permeates the Christian scriptures. Some of you may be familiar with an experiment that Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, a Christian organisation concerned about social justice, carried out a few years ago – in fact several years ago. Keen to identity what the bible says about God’s concern for the poor, about wealth and social justice Wallis and his friends started cutting out relevant passages from an old bible. They were surprised at what they ended up – a ‘bible full of holes’, which somebody called a HOLE-Y bible. And that is what a Christian gospel that does not pay attention to the poor and questions of social justice can become – a HOLE-Y gospel.
The second framework that the parable of Lazarus and the rich man perhaps opens for us in our reflections on wealth and poverty is the framework of relationships. The primary failure of the rich man in this parable seems to be his failure to see Lazarus as his neighbour. To be more precise he fails to SEE Lazarus at all.
And if we pay careful attention to the text the rich man does not land up in Hades because he did something outrightly wicked to Lazarus. He is there because he did nothing. I find it fascinating that when the rich man is languishing in Hades Abraham tells him that all Lazarus received during his life was evil – almost implying that the rich man’s silence in the face of Lazarus’s suffering was evil.
It is ironic that Lazarus only ever becomes visible to the rich man, when he is seen as someone who can be instrumentalised to serve his needs – his need for a drop or water, or for someone to warn his brothers.
Such objectification of the poor is in some way the sin of the present global system which has successfully sold to us the logic that the most guilt-free way to think of profits and prosperity is to separate it from questions concerning our relationships with other people and the planet.
Therefore, thinking of poverty in the context of relationships is important. However, it is not an easy choice to make, because at the heart of this choice is also the choice to give up one’s own power and privilege. Therefore, for many the easy way out is, like the rich man, to shield ourselves from the disruption that comes from making space in our lives for the poor. And that is the challenge that comes out of the parable today, a challenge that can only be lived out by God’s enabling grace.
Let me end with a poem written by Eddie Askew, who served many years ago in my part of India with the Leprosy Mission, who captures poignantly the challenge ahead of us.
Lord, what do you want?
Another hour at work?
A bit more in the collection plate?
A smile, a cheque
When the Oxfam man comes around?
I reckon I can manage that,
If it’s clear that’s what you ask.
And in the giving I’ll get a bonus too.
I’ll feel good, having made the effort.
Feel more than good, as I stand
Warming my hands at the fire of self-satisfaction.
Can we leave it that way, Lord?
I’ll do my bit and you’ll do yours.
My little world secure, unshaken.
The even progress of my life
Undisturbed by earth tremors of real commitment.
Many do less.
But as I’m tempted to relax,
I feel uneasy.
I’m only playing games.
Hiding the face of my selfishness
Behind gestures of goodwill.
Counting to a hundred and hoping I’ll not be found.
Your words cut deep.
Slice through the skin of my hypocrisy.
Lay bare the truth inside.
Your loving hands reach down to take,
Not the small things I offer
In the hope they’ll be enough,
But me. No less.
My world rocks in the earthquake of your approach,
The impossibility of your demands.
But as I let go, surrender,
I find a new stability,
As I stand, hands empty, in your presence.
Your love seeps through the cracks in my ego, and
Fills the empty spaces with your grace.
Today may the just and compassionate God of Lazarus fill those empty spaces in our lives that long for answers to difficult questions with grace. Amen.
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