Beneath the Power: Poverty
Luke 16: 19-31
If you visited the Whitehouse in the 1980’s, you would have encountered a contrast that was both depressing and heartbreaking. For at the base of the iron gates which was home to a president of the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the world, you would find people wrapped in dirty blankets, sleeping. If you visit the Whitehouse today, you will not see these people; not because America has eradicated homelessness but because the law makers made vagrancy a crime. They wanted to ensure that their poor were invisible to visiting diplomats. When Vancouver was preparing for the Olympic Games, the organizers wanted to take the homeless from east side of the city and put them somewhere else for the duration of the games so they would be invisible to visiting athletes and dignitaries.
And God weeps while Jesus tries to raise our awareness. Even though the rich man in Jesus’ story this morning gets cast into hell for his uncharitable behaviour, he still asks Father Abraham to sent ‘HIM’ to touch his agonizing tongue with cool water. ‘HIM’! The rich man doesn’t even know the man’s name. After all the years Lazarus has laid at this gate, the rich man never allowed himself the faintest intimacy of getting to know this man’s name. Even while being tormented in Hell, he still treats Lazarus like a slave. “Father Abraham, get ‘him’ to bring me water. Father Abraham, send ‘him’ to my five siblings.” There is indeed a chasm between them, one the rich man has dug everyday of Lazarus’ life.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus proclaims, “I have come to bring good news to the poor.” The poor are the focus of Jesus’ ministry. It comes down to compassion. Don’t be mistaken. It is not that the rich man is incapable of loving. In fact, he spends most of his life pursuing it as the rest of us do. His desire for power and authority is his way of being of not being overlooked like the Lazaruses of his day, his way of being seen and admired, feeding his need for love. Being the center of people’s attention, knowing and being known by all the right people, is his way of filling his need for love. So he dines everyday in the most lavish of ways, in probable gluttony, not under the cover of night with his head in the refrigerator, but in broad daylight wearing his rich purple robes, lying on his elaborately embroidered cushions. Jesus sys, “He has his reward.”
Be reminded that this nomadic rabbi Jesus chose his lifestyle not because he had no choice but to be poor, but because he has the spirit of God coursing through his veins; because he knows that there isn’t enough material goods in this world, never enough admiration, or authority, or power EVER to fill the need for love inside. One will always want more.
What makes Jesus the Messiah is his knowledge that there is only one perfect love, the primal love: the love by which we were given birth, the love breathed into us through the Holy Spirit. It is a love given without need. It is not a love which gives in hopes of what it will receive. It is not a love that is negotiated with. It is pure and holy giving.
When Jesus talks about compassion, he is using the Hebrew word which actually means ‘womb’. When Jesus sees the grief in a young mother who is carrying her dead son through the streets to his burial ground; when Jesus feels the woman who has been bleeding for years touch his robe; when Jesus sees the blind beggar groping around in the dirt for charity, he feels their grief in the pit of his being, in the womb of creation, the womb of God. He is not shamed of these children of God but is prepared to take all their rejection, all their loneliness, all their hunger, all their not being seen to the cross with him and bear it all there. That’s the primal love. That is the only love that liberates and frees.
With all this talk of heaven and hell, one is aware of an apocalyptic urgency in this story. It is a wake-up call to the rich man’s five siblings. It’s Jesus’ wake-up call for humanity’s siblings. Yet, even though Jesus is the risen man, the rich man asked Father Abraham to send the world. How many of us have heeded his words even after 2,000 years? Some have, yet others, even knowing the words of Christ, continue to build nations where the poor live under the monuments of power.
People who declare themselves the followers of Jesus, build cathedrals for worship in his name, consecrate shrines, bless holy relics, still feed the poor the crumbs from our Eucharistic tables. It is not until, through prayer, that we can hold such intimacy with God that we will feel the primal love within us, and know compassion for humankind in the pit of our being, our womb.
I met a woman some years ago who was a very intelligent, accomplished woman, the definition of professionalism with a very prominent position in an international company. Later in life, she and her husband birthed the child they had both longed for. The child was challenged physically and mentally and would need constant care for the rest of his life. She quit her job, they sold their house, their cottage, their toys, and she spent her days caring for him.
In search of the inner wound of resentment, I asked the woman if she ever regretted her decision. She clearly and emphatically declared, “He’s my son and I love him.” You saw within her the compassion of which Jesus spoke, that love in the pit of her womb, so pure it asked nothing in return and hosted no concern for what she had lost in her own life. One witnesses only her deep love for him.
Think of Jesus on the cross, seeing and caring the loneliness and pain of others even in his own innocence. Primal love. God’s love. The only love that really matters. As the old folk song says, “When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”