We live in a time of great contention. We generate hatred on both sides of the political/social debate. How can we know who is right?
As always, we must look to God.
I am a teacher of history and political science, but more importantly, a Christian. I understand how our nation got into this mess of ideological divisiveness, even as I am unable to see a clear way out of the bramble patch.
As a follower of the Messiah and a believer in the Word of God, I can say that taking either the conservative or liberal path will only lead to ruin. Following in the footsteps of Yeshua and his predecessors is the only option.
A word of caution: we all tend to believe the political position we have staked out is the one God would want us to take. Taking Jesus as an example, that seems unlikely. He ignored his political surroundings.
Let’s look first at the Word of God through His prophet Amos.
You who lie on beds of ivory, and sprawl upon your couches, eating choice lamb and farm-fed veal. … But never a thought do you spare for the terrible miseries of Joseph! Phillips
Woe to those who live in luxury and expect everyone else to serve them! Woe to those who live only for today, indifferent to the fate of others! MSG
Let me add verse 6 from the Message. Woe to those addicted to feeling good—life without pain! those obsessed with looking good—life without wrinkles! They could not care less about their country going to ruin.
This should hit most of us in the church today. I may not commit armed robbery or murder, but I am guilty of ignoring people in need; mostly because I don’t see their needs, or even see them as worthy of my help.
One more verse in Amos, verse 8, just after our assigned reading. The Lord has sworn by himself, I detest the pride of Jacob, and I loathe his gorgeous palaces. I will abandon his city and all that is in it. Phillips
Consider the gorgeous palaces of many American Christians. Think of the pride American Christians have in being Americans. Are we so different from the Southern Kingdom of Judah? Are we headed for Babylon?
What of the teaching of Yeshua?
Before we look at today’s reading in Luke, let’s back up a few verses to 13. This and the following quotes are from Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel (1969). No worker can hire out to two bosses at the same time. For either he will have contempt for one and respect for the other, or he will look up to one and down on the other. You absolutely cannot be loyal to both God and Money.
With that in mind, read the following.
Once there was a rich man, and he put on his tux and stiff shirt, and staged a big affair every day. And there was laid at his gate a poor guy by the name of Lazarus, full of sores, and so hungry he wanted to fill up on the rich man’s table scraps. On top of this, the dogs came and licked his sores.
It so happened that the poor fellow died, and the angels seated him at the table with Abraham. The rich man died, too, and was buried. And in the hereafter, the rich man, in great agony, looked up and saw from afar Abraham, and Lazarus sitting beside him at the table.
So he shouted to him, ‘Mr. Abraham, please take pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in some water and rub it over my tongue, because I’m scorching in this heat.’ “Abraham replied, ‘Boy, you remember that while you were alive you got the good things (the good jobs, schools, streets, houses, etc.), while at the same time Lazarus got the left-overs. But now, here he’s got it made, and you’re scorching.
And on top of all this, somebody has dug a yawning chasm between us and you, so that people trying to get through from here to you can’t make it, neither can they get through from there to us.’
The rich man said, ‘Well, then, Mr. Abraham, will you please send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers; let him thoroughly warn them so they won’t come to this hellish condition.’
Then Abraham said, ‘They’ve got the Bible and the preachers; let them listen to them.’ But he said, ‘No, they won’t do that, Mr. Abraham. But if somebody will go to them from the dead, they’ll change their ways!’ He replied, ‘Well, if they won’t listen to the Bible and the preachers, they won’t be persuaded even if someone does get up from the dead.’
Keep in mind that Clarence Jordan, like Eugene Peterson, was a Greek scholar. (Jordan died in 1969 and Peterson in 2018.) They both paraphrased the Greek into contemporary English, without losing the meaning of the Greek.
Take another look at the ending. They won’t be persuaded even if someone does get up from the dead. Jesus walking out of the grave has failed to convince most people in the world.
This parable works on several levels. It is yet another condemnation of the wealthy, or at least those who fail to use their wealth properly. It is affirmation that the least of the world—the bottom billion people—will be taken care of by God in the afterlife.
More importantly for today, Jesus reminds us that the final judgment ignores those things which keep us anchored to the world and stresses those things that revolve around the things of God. The wealthy man is not condemned for being rich, rather for failing to help the very man who camped on his doorstep. Lazarus broke bread with Abraham because he never hurt others, not because he was poor.
Liberal Christians stress that we should give what we can to the poor. Conservative Christians believe we should work to make the world a better place where even the poor can live well.
Both statements are too limited, but the point here is that neither is right in the eyes of God.
If the rich man had been a liberal, he might have given Lazarus scrapes from the table. If he had been a conservative, he might have talked to his rich friends to see if any of them could hire the poor man at his gate.
Jesus would have met Lazarus where he was. Jesus would have talked with him, touched him, helped heal him in body and soul.
We do not have to organize some social or governmental outfit to “meet the needs of the poor.” You and I can take ten minutes to say hello, to get to know them, perhaps bring two cups of coffee and sit to chat. We might ask, “What would you most like to have right now?” Or, “Could I get you something to make you more comfortable?” Often, they would be thrilled with new socks.
Mostly, we put them off. We have busy lives. We don’t have time to chat with stinky strangers.
Be righteous and do good.