Monday, November 7, 2011

To be Rich and Poor: Part 1

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. – Luke 16:19-21

Today’s Reading: Luke 16:19-31

When I went to Ralph’s the other day I saw a woman with a cane positioned right by the door.

“Uh oh, I know what’s about to happen… She’s going to ask me for money” was my immediate thought.

Generally I handle such situations based on the feeling I have at the moment. I work in downtown Los Angeles and if I were to give money to every homeless person I saw, I too would be homeless. The problem is that pervasive.

So as I approached the entrance to the grocery store, like clockwork, she said, “excuse me but do you have any change?” It was a sad situation, made all the more sad by the angry energy I felt from her. It just didn’t feel good. So I said, “no, sorry” and walked into the store to get a few quick items.

I’ve written here about other times where I have felt moved to give but that doesn’t really matter. The problem is big, bigger than me, but I still can’t help but to feel compassion for those that are less fortunate. I know it’s not my responsibility to save everyone, but is it my responsibility to help the people I come in contact with? Is it my responsibility to help them all of the time or some of the time? Will my couple dollars stop them from begging anyway? What they really need is a home and a means to get a steady income, right?

I’m sure these thoughts are familiar to you. I, like you, have comforted my unwillingness to give wish such rationalizations.

Situations like these are why the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is so challenging. The rich man ends up going to hell and the poor man to paradise with Abraham. Why is this so? Is it because the poor are better than the rich in spirit? Are the rich predestined on a path straight to hell?

No. There is nothing inherently wrong with being rich and nothing inherently good about being poor. The lesson here is about all of the time that the poor man was at the rich man’s door step and he failed to help him. The rich man ignored his plight while feasting at his table to the point where Lazarus died there, “desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table”.

As Christians we are challenged to live our lives in accordance with our faith. Spiritual and political leaders challenge us to do this when it comes to lifestyle choices like sexuality or when we vote on issues like abortion and gay marriage. But for some reason we are strangely silent, politically, when it comes to the plight of the poor.

Food For Thought: Is it enough for us to give a few dollars to the homeless people we see or is more required? Are we as individuals like the rich man who ignored Lazarus while he starved? What about us as a community, city, nation?

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