Thursday, March 12, 2009

Topsy-Turvy Worlds

Today's Word:
Jeremiah 17:5-10 (Cursed are they who trust in man; blest are they who trust in God)
Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6 (Blest are they who hope in the Lord)
Luke 16:19-31 (The story of the the rich man and Lazarus)

Occasionally, Luke's telling of the story of Lazarus is often confused with the Lazarus recounted by John. The latter, the brother of Martha and Mary, is brought back to life by Jesus after being dead four days (John 11:1-45) and that miracle is also recalled during Lent.

In today's reading, our Lazarus is quite possibly a leper. He is sick. He is hungry. Yet he's not stupid; he knows that the house in front of which he sits is that of a wealthy man, a man whose every earthly need is covered. It would take nothing for the rich man to have one of his servants bring a basket of food out to him. Lazarus doesn't have to ask; his condition speaks for him.

When the two men die, they pass into the next life. To nobody's surprise, Lazarus gets a seat near the great patriarch Abraham - a suggestion that he's already counted among the saints in heaven, practically within close sight of God Himself. Meanwhile, our rich man has lost everything and is sent to the 'netherworld', the place where there's much wailing and grinding of teeth; what's more, he gets to see Lazarus in God's splendor.

Mercy cannot be given to our rich man, because he was not merciful to Lazarus. It would not have taken much at all to provide some comfort, some help. But as he did nothing along those lines in life, he gets nothing in return in the end. He doesn't even get the luxury of preventing his five brothers from suffering a similar fate; he doesn't even get to haunt them (as Charles Dickens provided for his protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol).

Today, there are hundreds of humanitarian organizations in the world, from religious, governmental, and even private foundations whose goal it is to assist those in need. Most of them operate through requests for donations of either money or goods that can be used. There are food pantries everywhere; resale stores for the donation of used clothing and other items. Many of these organizations have trained staffers who are able to give further assistance to people who are more than just down on their luck. It seems we have come a long way.

But there is still a long, long, way to go. Jesus wasn't kidding when he said that the poor would always be among us (an important point even if taken out of the context of the chapter/verse of scripture where he says this). Now add today's bleak economic picture, with 8% unemployment (in the US) and no definitive end in sight. Food pantries especially seem to be feeling the pinch; there are more people looking for assistance, and less supply coming in.

My family and I donate to food pantries a couple of times a year. I confess it's not a regular thing. Perhaps it should be. We don't tend to see much in the way of Lazarus sitting at our doorstep; if anyone were to do that these days, the local police department would get involved. While there are hungry all over the world, and many organizations to help alleviate that, we can forget that: a) there are any number of people in our own neighborhoods who may be wondering when they'll have their next meal; and b) no matter how we attempt to defend it, as a society-at-large we are rather wasteful. We throw away a lot.

Jesus doesn't mention if our sumptuously dining rich man had a weight problem. It doesn't matter. However, our bulging middles might serve as a reminder to offer some of what we will or should no longer consume to those who would even eat stuff laden with high fructose corn syrup merely to survive.

Footnote: As I was posting this to my other personal blog, and previewing the same, I couldn't help but notice in the margin an ad for Tuscany-style lasagna, available at Pizza Hut; and their new all-natural pizza.

We indeed have a long way to go.

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