Abraham said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:31. (NRSV)
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is interesting in that it is a reversal of our cultural expectations and desires. In our world, especially our society, we, as people who live in the richest nation of the world, have the idea that the rich are blessed and the poor have done something wrong and have brought this on themselves. In the story, the “fortunes” are reversed for both of the two men. The rich man finds himself in Hades where he is suffering, and he sees Lazarus, someone he totally ignored in life, in the arms of Abraham, being nurtured and cared for in heaven.
When the rich man asks for relief, he is refused because the chasm between them cannot be breached. So then the man asks for someone to go warn his brothers so they won’t make the same mistakes he made in life (maybe Charles Dickens had this scripture in mind when he wrote “A Christmas Carol”!). Jesus was making the point that we need to pay attention to the poor in our life time. This man totally ignored Lazarus – it wasn’t that he SAW him and chose not to help him – he IGNORED him.
It seems to me that Jesus is telling us to pay attention to our brothers and sisters who need our care and compassion and help. There are so many things we can do to make a difference. In Portland, Maine, there is a ministry for the homeless that offers opportunities to help the folks to whom they minister in easy and simple ways. As winter approaches, they ask us to donate new clean white socks, warm hats, gloves, and blankets, and for the summer they ask for backpacks, tents, and the new clean white socks. These are simple and pretty affordable things that nearly all of us can do, so we take a collection for them and someone delivers them.
Every Sunday, we are invited to bring food for our York County Shelter Food Pantry. This is an outreach that offers food for the hungry seven days a week, and their shelves are often bare because there is such a great need. We have invited the congregation to make bringing food a part of their regular offering, and they have responded wonderfully. It isn’t asking a lot of people, but we are making a difference.
We don’t need to travel to foreign countries in order to notice the poor, but I think it is good to be aware of the poor wherever they may be. We grow in understanding of our global connection as God’s children whether it’s in our own back yards, in our country, or in another country. Being aware and learning about the plight of the poor opens our hearts to God’s call to BE the church in the world. We don’t just represent the church; we ARE the church. Jesus calls us to NOTICE the poor, to do something to help in whatever ways we can. That is following the teachings of Jesus and living our faith in the world, not so others will see our good works, but so we will know we are striving to be faithful disciples of Jesus, the Christ. May we keep our minds and hearts open to Jesus’ call in our lives.
Micah 6:8 – “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV) May it be so.