As Presbyterians, we bounce back and forth with our Episcopalian brothers and sisters as the denomination with the wealthiest members in our country. Where we have never been surpassed is our education level. Presbyterians are consistently the most highly educated church-goers in the United States.
We are rich, and we are smart and well educated.
Yet, according to the US Government, the rate of poverty in our country has hovered between 11 and 15% since the war on poverty was declared in 1964. That’s somewhere around 43 million people. In Indiana, even with recent improvements, there are almost 6,000 people without homes. Over 600 families with children are homeless.
If we are so rich and so smart and Christian, why is this happening?
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports: “There is a great chasm separating us.” The gap between the rich and poor continues to grow. In OECD countries, which includes the US, the richest 10% of the population earn almost ten times the income of the poorest 10%. CEO’s are frequently paid around 300 times more than the salary of ordinary workers. Forty years ago, the salary gap was a multiplication of 20.
A great chasm separates us now. We sit in our homes and churches and feast, sumptuously, as Luke says, while people right outside are suffering from injuries and illnesses, with no companionship in their poverty. If we are so rich and so smart, why do these people not have somewhere to stay?
In this parable, it is not the wealth of the rich man that sends him into torment, it is his utter indifference to Lazarus, lying outside his house. This rich man was wealthy and presumably intelligent, but he was devoid of compassion. He lived as if he did not even see Lazarus, even though he was little just outside his door.
This parable isn’t about the soul-wrecking qualities of wealth. It’s a parable about the soul-wrecking path of walking right by those who are suffering, those who are poor, without even seeing them.
Jesus’ parable calls us to confront the reality that every day we pass by people who are in desperate need. We avert our eyes from the person with the cardboard sign at the corner. We ignore the statistics about homeless youth in our area. We turn off the program about chronic generational poverty in America. We flip by the piece in our newsfeed about those exploited in sex trafficking. We refuse to look at any more pictures of people fleeing the devastation of Syria. It’s right outside our door, and we don’t want to see.
What bridges the chasm between the wealthy and the poor is not money. It is not charity. It is community.
A local radio show, The Art of the Matter, last week featured a tattoo artist named Shadow. Shadow has won a lot of awards, nationally and internationally. He uses social media very effectively to promote his work and his shop and recently received an financially lucrative sponsorship from an equipment company.
In the interview, Shadow said he didn’t know he was ungrateful for his blessings until a client invited his to volunteer with people who are homeless. Shadow visited the “under the bridge” group and was moved by the people he met. He realized he could use his large social media following to invite people to help. So he put up a picture of himself that first day of volunteering and invited people to join him. Next week fourteen people showed up with clothes, food, connections, and community. The week after that there were more.
He said, “All I had to do was be a springboard to help people see what was going on in Indianapolis.” Shadow said his goal now is to become extremely wealthy so he can develop a program for authentic artistic expression for kids 6-18, so they don’t have to hustle or be hustled to know who they are.
The piece concluded with Shadow saying, “I could go anywhere, but I’m staying in Indianapolis. I am more than a tattoo artist. I’m a member of the community.”
That’s a parable about someone who looked across the chasm to see who was on the other side. And seeing, he crossed over to be in community.
We are rich and well educated, so Jesus tells this parable to us. Jesus doesn’t want to judge us. He wants to change us. Jesus wants us to see the chasm and to see that those on the other side are all children of Abraham – our brothers and our sisters. Jesus is calling us to cross over the chasm into community.
Oh holy Son of God, our brother and our teacher, you indeed have risen from the dead to show us a higher way. Teach us to follow you across the wide chasm that would separate us from your beloved children. Amen.