Lazarus and the rich man
The story of Lazarus and the rich man is a living parable. According to a report just released by the World Bank South Africa is the most unequal society in the world. 'After nearly two decades of progress following the abolishment of apartheid, South Africa’s societal gains are now deteriorating. Most worryingly, the gap between the rich and poor has worsened for this upper-middle-income country—71% of wealth is now held by a 10% elite; the bottom 60% of the population hold just 7% of assets—making South Africa the most unequal country in the world. The triple challenge the report describes—poverty, unemployment, and inequality—is a toxic mix for health. The warning signs for a future health crisis are here: 39% of South Africans live in overcrowded housing. Food security, stunting, and child malnutrition are worsening since 2012'.
'There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.' Luke 16:19-20
The story of Lazarus and the rich man has a similar warning to the rich. The rich man displays all the characteristics that 1 Timothy condemns – pride and living the ‘good life’ through luxury and selfish ease. He ignores the poor man living at his gate, hungry, ragged and sick. After he dies, he still has no respect for Lazarus, he asks Abraham to send him if he were his slave (24, 27).
This is a very harsh story. The rich man had no excuse of saying 'I didn’t know' for Lazarus sits at his very gate. In the afterlife he will suffer endless pain. Why can his family not be saved? They also know the situation; they are rich and know of the poverty of others and do nothing. They know the words of the prophets about poverty and injustice. If Lazarus was sent back to them, they would only chase him away.
The story of Lazarus shows us that in our culture we separate ourselves from suffering, we build security fences and keep poor people away. But the reality is that we are locking the suffering out and also ourselves in. The richest communities are the most isolated. These patterns are destroying community. Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in South Africa.
Lazarus is the only person in all of Jesus’ parables who has a name. And that is significant – poverty is not 'them out there' it is people with names, and children and stories and talent and resources to enrich others. The rich man is not given a name. We know he is a religious man for he does call out to Father Abraham for help, but he had locked the poor out of his life. The challenge for us is to rewrite the end of the story, to break down the barriers and to get to know the names and faces of those outside of our comfort zones.
When Jesus says, ‘The poor will always be with you' (John 12:8). He is not saying – there will always be poverty so we don’t need to worry about it. He is quoting from the Torah :”For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). What he is saying is the poor will always be with you – so open your hands to give. The poor should always be with us, in our prayers, in our giving, in our decision making, in our social networks. If the poor are not part of your life and ministry and parish priorities then Jesus challenges you – the poor should always be with you.
This passage makes it clear that it is not OK for churches to accept the status quo. We must be on the side of the poor and disadvantaged and be the voice for the voiceless. As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a preferential option for the poor, namely, to conditions for marginalised voices to be heard, to defend the defenceless, and to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor.
Many churches are involved with great love and compassion in acts of charity: food donations, winter clothes drives, Christmas gifts. These actions are often: once off, non –relational, giving of surplus, giving what the giver thinks the person needs. Charity does not look at long term solutions. Restitution is long term, relational, potentially costly and developed in conversation with those to whom restitution is being made. Restitution, unlike charity, is: - 'Highly relational; - Potentially costly; - Long-term; - Developed in conversation with those toward whom restitution is being made' (Restitution foundation)
Prayer of Confession
Lord, you have given us a world full of rich resources to feed us all
And to provide us with all that the body and mind could need.
Yet, the poor are still with us, deprived of food, of homes,
of education and dignity; deprived of healing and of hope.
Forgive our inhumanity. Forgive our selfishness and greed.
Forgive our church life and our home life. Forgive us for leaving Christ unfed, unhoused, without healing and without hope. Forgive us as we bring ourselves and our possessions back to you,
In Christ’s name. Amen.
(Anglican Church of Southern Africa)
The weekly pointers for the Season of Creation www.seasonofcreation.org have been provided by Reverend Canon Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator at Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Pray for Kasturi and Mathi and the community featured in this year’s Harvest Appeal, pray we would all participate in the work of justice being done in India so all are included in the feast of life.
Published on 29 September 2019