2004—Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time—C
I went to bed on Friday night with my usual First World comforts: a warm house, a comfortable bed, and a full stomach. In the morning I woke up, as usual, to my clock radio which I usually have set to National Public Radio news. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes I heard the latest report from Haiti where over a thousand people died this week in severe flooding from tropical storm Jeanne. As I lay there in the darkness of my room, comfortable and secure in my warm bed, listening to the latest trials of our neighbors in Haiti, I couldn't help but think of Lazarus and the rich man Dives. I couldn't help but be haunted by the words of the prophet Amos: "Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortable on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall, yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph . . ." Waking up to the latest news from Haiti, the poorest country in our Western hemisphere, suddenly put all of my anxieties, and all of my First world comforts into proper perspective. Today, Jesus challenges us to notice Lazarus at the gate. Today, Jesus challenges us to bridge that chasm that separates us from Lazarus . . . the chasm that keeps us from living in the freedom and the fullness of the kingdom.
Throughout this liturgical year, Luke has been haunting all of us First World Christians with his warnings about the dangers of wealth. Luke wants us to notice the way wealth can blind us. He wants to haunt us and challenge us. It's in Luke's gospel that we hear Mary, the mother of Jesus, singing those familiar lines from the Magnificat: "He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty." It's in Luke's gospel that we hear Jesus preaching with authority in the synagogue at the beginning of his public ministry: "He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. . ." It's in Luke's gospel that we hear those challenging words of the sermon on the plain: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours . . . but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. . ." And it's in Luke's gospel that we hear the parable of the rich fool. Luke tells us to travel lightly, to leave behind wealth and possessions so that we can follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem, all the way to the cross. For Luke, taking up our cross is all about loving our poor brothers and sisters. It's all about walking with them and helping God to lift them up and fill them with good things. Luke wants to haunt us First World Christians with his gospel.
Luke is also known for some very consoling stories - like the story of the prodigal father who searches for his lost son; like the story of the Good Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep; like the story of the woman who searches her house for that lost coin. But a closer look reveals that even these stories are challenging for us First World Christians. After all, they challenge us to imitate the God who searches out the lost son, the lost sheep, the lost coin. We are challenged to notice and search out the poor man Lazarus at our gate. We are challenged to notice the flood victim in Haiti, the refugee in Sudan, the gang member in Roxbury, the homeless man at the Shattuck Shelter. Luke wants us to notice these brothers and sisters, and he wants us to search them out, like the Good Shepherd, the prodigal father, and that woman who looks between the floor boards and under the sofa cushions for that lost coin. Luke wants us to embrace Lazarus at our gate the way the father embraces the son and plans a feast. Luke wants us to share our good fortune with Lazarus the way the woman rejoices with her friends and invites them to a celebration. Luke wants us to know that our lives are incomplete until we notice and embrace Lazarus at our gate. It's only the poor man Lazarus who can bring us the fullness of life - not wealth, not riches, not comfortable couches and garments of fine linen.
I don't think that God wants to send us on a guilt trip with these readings today. But I do think that God wants to show us the way to the fullness of life. God wants us to notice Lazarus and to search out ways to bridge the chasm between us. God wants us to notice the way our wealth can blind us, the way certain structures of our society make the chasm between us and Lazarus larger and larger.
This morning on the radio Haiti was largely out of the news. Apparently the floods in Haiti are finally receding. But the poverty and misery remain, and the chasm between our world and theirs continues to grow deeper and wider. I pray that the living waters of baptism will never recede in us. I pray that those waters will flow through us with the force of a Category 5 hurricane. I pray that the challenge of Luke's gospel will continue to haunt us and show us the way to fullness of life - with Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.