by Joan Fanshawe
(Based on Luke 17:5–10; 2 Timothy 1:1–14)
Admit it: society thinks of the well-to-do as ‘somebody’, treating them with respect and honour, while we treat the destitute with scorn and judgment. We think of them as a ‘nobody’.
In Jesus’s story of a rich man and a poor man notice how he reverses that. The rich man is not named; other than his riches he’s nobody in particular. But the poor man is somebody. He has a name: Lazarus. (Not the same Lazarus who Jesus brought back from death, incidentally.)
When Lazarus dies he is carried by angels to the “bosom of Abraham”. When the rich man dies …. well, he dies. He’s buried, that’s it. No further ado.
The poor, the abandoned, the nameless – they are somebody. The guy at the intersection with the tatty cardboard sign, the refugee with everything in a plastic bag, the addict wasting away in an upstairs room, the inmate languishing in prison, they have a name, a story. They’re somebody. Look at them and see. See them. Maybe you can do something, maybe not. But you can see them.
On the face of it, the parable is about wealth, and it’s a pretty grim story. Jesus has a great deal to say about wealth in the Gospels, and most of it pretty damning.
But for me the message in this morality tale — the key danger Jesus identifies here in the pursuit of material comforts and riches — is the danger of blindness. Not seeing the human need, at the gate, as it were, and not seeing human worth as real.
Jesus hardly ever mentions the afterlife through the Gospels, but he regularly uses images of the future to shake us up and help us become more conscious of how we are living now. He speaks about the kingdom of heaven, not as an ethereal destination where your soul goes after you die; it is instead how God intends this world to be when we have our priorities right and follow his will for our lives, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
We have heard that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. And while that is certainly true, as a saying alone it might leave us feeling judged or defensive.
Thank goodness that isn’t the only thing Paul said about wealth when advising Timothy how to be alongside communities with wealthy folk in them. He says that rich folk are to “do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
Even if we here today would describe our situation as merely ‘comfortable’, that still places us firmly into the top half of the world’s wealth measure.
You see, Paul knows, as Jesus knew, as the Psalmist knew, as Amos knew, as God knows … that wealth can be a great big stumbling block when it comes to living fully the abundant life Jesus offers, living the life that is really life. Too much money can easily get in our way. Too much stuff also causes distraction, cautiousness, anxiety or such a resolve to preserve our privilege that we also become blind to another great problem lying at our gate.
The future of our planet, like the beggar this situation, has a name I’ll say: Climate crisis.
As we Anglicans are celebrating the Season of Creation, and especially the care of creation, I can see a real link from the Gospel story to the situation of the privileged ones of the world not seeing and not acknowledging the problem of climate change.
And then out of the blue … while I was writing this I had a ‘keeping in touch’ message from a friend, Carey, who lives in Kenya and works through her charity of Manasprings, empowering women’s groups there. She and a Kenyan colleague had been stuck in Queensland for two years due to the pandemic (but were able to do some good fundraising while there and keep in touch with their team in Kenya).
They have been back in Africa for a few weeks now and in today’s photos were with a group of women, weaving baskets out under some very dehydrated looking trees, everything looking so brown – except the brightly attired women!
Carey commented that Kenya is experiencing a desperate drought. Some areas, like the one in the photos, have not had any rain for more than four years. Can you imagine having to walk to a dry river bed and dig ten feet down in the hope of finding water? Then walking back with a few containers hung on the back of your donkey – if you are lucky enough to have a donkey?
Carey’s response to my comment about our blindness to the climate issue at our gates was,
“It is true …. we who are the privileged few living in the comfort of our rich nations cocoon ourselves to the extent that we are then blind to the issues, concerns and safety of others living in poorer nations like Kenya. We look inwards to our own needs rather than outwards to help the suffering of others.
“Climate change has severely impacted people in Kenya and these past weeks visiting drought affected regions, has definitely shown me the very major concern of lack of water. Nothing can be grown without water. It is harsh. I pray you will be inspired tomorrow as you share and that people will listen well and be called to action!”
Are we blind to climate change and global warming? It’s very hard to ignore now. On Friday young people led marches for climate awareness in city streets around the world, but scarcely got a mention in the media. That’s because of other issues I guess, like the madness of ego-driven ambition driving slaughter and destruction and statements of even deeper threats.
But, what can we do? What will we dare to see?
At least recognise the issue – remove our blinkers of privilege and reluctance to make changes. Examine our unseeing attitudes towards the care of creation and speak up in support of our younger ones looking for solutions.
Live simply so that others may simply live.
What else do we require, in order to see what’s at the gate? We have Moses. We have the prophets. We have the parables. We have the life, the death, and the resurrection of the Son of God. Like the rich man in the parable, we have everything we need in order to repent, find grace, and offer healing love to the world.
What does this mean? It means we are without any excuse as we stand inside the gate. What will we do next? Where will our gaze linger? What will we dare to see?