In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been speaking to us about discipleship (about how we follow him) these past few weeks, much of it centered around our wealth & possessions. A quick summary:
Three weeks ago: “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Two weeks ago: “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Last week: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”
And today, as if to summarize what we have been hearing, Jesus tells us the parable of the rich man who lived sumptuously and poor Lazarus lying forgotten at the gate. Both die. Lazarus the poor man goes to heaven. The rich men to hell. Warnings from Moses & the prophets… like our first reading from Amos who condemns those who lounge around in their security and their riches & fail to grieve and help those who are in ruin.
1 Timothy goes a step further for us, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it… but those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith…”
Wealth, possessions, power, status, these in and of themselves are not evil. But it is the love of money, the love of possessions, or status or wealth that leads us away from Jesus & from life, it’s what he has been talking about these past few weeks. We need to love people not things, and not let those things get in the way… But if we come away from all of this thinking Jesus is not talking to us because we are not wealthy, then we need to hear his words in a different way. Here is a reflection from the Boston Globe:
She was quiet and painfully shy, overwhelmed by the more outgoing personalities of the family she married into years before. She was devoted to her husband; at family gatherings, she stuck to her husband's side, stroking the family dog, as the nieces and nephews buzzed around them. Her conversations were little more than, "Hi, good to see you. How are you?" She always baked for family gatherings - but except for the tarts and cookies, she barely registered.
She and her husband lived only a few neighborhoods away. When they sent birthday and holiday presents, they received thank-you notes when the recipients could easily have walked over. One Christmas she knitted sweaters that quickly found their way to the bottom of closets. She and her husband gave generously. The family responded minimally. Not that they were mean or inconsiderate. Just busy with their lives.
Her husband died first. She continued to live in the house nearby, but without his connection, she saw the family less and less. One niece had grown fond of her; the rest drifted away as they grew up, went to school, got married and had children of their own. When she died, rather suddenly, the niece took it upon herself to pack up the house. At a Sunday family dinner, she came with mementos: photos, paintings, small pieces of furniture. She also brought a large stuffed envelope. She poured its contents on a table: their thank-you notes. She had saved them. We often realize too late what we mean to one another. [Inspired by the essay "A small token, a memento" by Elissa Ely, The Boston Globe, October 2, 2010.]
Jesus' story about Lazarus and the rich man seems to belong to another time and place, far away from our own - but the fact is that there are many Lazaruses at our own gates whom we too often overlook or dismiss. Lazarus may be sitting at the desk right next to us at work; sitting near us at the senior center; in the stands with us as a sporting event. Lazarus may even be sitting at our own dinner table.
Today's Gospel challenges us to remove the blinders of self-centeredness from our eyes and hearts to see God in our very midst: the poor, the forgotten, the isolated, the marginalized, the quiet one; to realize the dignity of every human being as created in the image of God; to possess the humility that enables us to embrace one another as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
St. Mother Teresa and we have a responsibility to help relieve such poverty. Sometimes life changes for us & an opportunity arises:
20 years ago, Marley Kaplan was an investment banker whose job disappeared when her firm dissolved. In the course of her job search, she saw an ad for a part-time job as an executive director of a nonprofit organization. The pay: $25,000 a year - a steep cut from her six-figure salary. But, after too many 14-hour-days in a field she no longer found interesting, Marley was looking for a new direction. She applied for the nonprofit job, went through a series of interviews, and was hired.What we give our money to and how we use our resources of time/talent/treasure are the real indicators of what we truly believe, of the values we consider most important and want to pass on. To possess money and wealth is not wrong - the moral question is how we use that wealth. In Jesus' parable today, the rich man is condemned not because he is wealthy but because he remains unmoved and unaffected by the suffering at his very door, a lack of awareness& lack of action.
Marley Kaplan became the president of the Chess-in-the-Schools Foundation. She had no experience in working in nonprofits - she didn't even play chess. But the foundation was impressed by her enthusiasm and organizational experience.
Under Marley's leadership, the New York city foundation teaches chess to 20,000 children in poor urban neighborhoods each year. In addition to chess instruction, the program offers its young players tutoring, SAT preparation and college counseling. The budget has grown from $200,000 to $3 million a year; almost a half a million children have been taught how to play chess, under the theory that the game helps them develop basic analytical skills that lead to academic success.
While taking the job has seriously affected her own bank account and meant major changes in life style, Marley Kaplan is thrilled with her work. "Every time I see the kids, it is overwhelming to me that what we give them will change their lives. And these kids deserve it." [The New York Times, November 12, 2009.]
Christ calls us to realize that our lasting legacy as his disciples is not in what we accumulate but in what we give to make our world a happier, healthier place for the Lazarus at our gates. Whether we can teach a child how to play chess, whether we know how to comfort and listen and console, whether we can help out a soup kitchen or a tutoring program, or reach out to a quiet family member, we reveal the compassion and hope of God's kingdom in our midst. Amen.