A DITCH CUTS OFF A TWO WAY STREET
Luke 16 : 19 – 31, Amos 6 : 1a, 4 – 7, Psalm 146
When I was living in Southern Africa, the most ridiculous act of the Apartheid Government I saw was the banning of a movie "Black Beauty". Because they were paranoid about the mixing of races, they built many barriers to keep races from each other. As the result, the ignorance and fear of the white people about other races became quite pathological. Some people could not accept a notion of black being beautiful. Even a nice children”s story about a beautiful black horse sounded subversive to some people. What a pity. If we build a barrier or dig a ditch between people, we miss the richness of God” creation in other people.
Jesus” parable about a rich man and Lazarus carries the same message. If you cut off a relationship, you cut it off both ways. Not only they can not come to you, but also can you not go to them. And where there are no comings and goings between people, mutual ignorance and fear of each other are bound to separate people even further.
All of us are mutually dependent on others. Even if you think you can ignore somebody, the same person may turn out to be indispensable in your life later. We all change. In the case of today”s Gospel reading, the rich man died and discovered that in the afterlife the poor beggar Lazarus was in a comfortable position, while the rich man himself was suffering desperately. The roles had been switched. The rich man suddenly needed Lazarus” help desperately. But Lazarus could not help him. This sort of reversal of roles happens very often in this life.
There was once a snowstorm in the mountains of Lesotho. Yes, there is snow in Africa, too. Especially in Lesotho, since it is a mountainous country, with an altitude of 6,000 feet to 11,000 feet above sea level. Anyhow, a group white women tourists visiting from South Africa were stranded in the snow. Their jeep got stuck on a mountain road. They had no food, no water, no warm clothes. They nearly froze to death. The white South African tourists usually came into a black country like Lesotho, only for a day. They could not imagine that they could be safe staying over night in Lesotho. But they were rescued by African villagers who warmly welcomed them into their village, inviting them to the homes, feeding them for a week until they could dig out the car. Those villagers are much poorer than the average Europeans or North Americans, many times poorer. But sharing is part of their culture. They always are prepared with food and other things for unexpected guests.
However, it was interesting to read how the South African newspapers reported this episode. The story was told as an amazing event. But for Africans, there was nothing extraordinary about it. It happens all the time, people helping people in trouble. You don”t leave a stalled car alone in a snowstorm on an isolated country road without finding out if everything is OK in Africa or in Canada for that matter. But when you shut out other people from your life, they become inaccessible to you. Not only you do not think of helping others, but also you do not think that anyone can help you. It was good that those women had enough sense to accept the normal kindness of the local people despite the racial bias they had acquired as they grew up in South Africa. If they had followed their cultural bias and refused the hospitality out of fear, they could have died.
The point of this story about Lazarus and a rich man was not about the negative aspect of wealth as such. The wealth of the rich man in this story is a metaphor for the arrogance that deceives one into thinking that one can afford to ignore other people. But the patriarch Abraham, if we are to recall the stories about him in the Old Testament, was an enormously rich man. And in this story, Abraham is depicted as a protector of the poor man Lazarus. So the wealth itself is neutral. The real issue is whether wealth makes you arrogant and apathetic or more compassionate and humane.
Once you allow your wealth to fool you into believing that you are OK under any circumstance because you are rich, then you are in trouble. Jesus in another parable spoke about a farmer who had a bumper crop. The farmer said to himself, "My three warehouses are full. I am rich. Now I can eat and drink and be merry." And God said to him, "You, fool! Tomorrow you may die." Money can not buy everything. The worst thing that wealth can do is to cut off your relationship with other human beings. Unfortunately wealth often does that, because of our preoccupation in material wealth and of our neglect of other human values, like affection, friendship, and yearning for knowledge. The rich man did not give a damn about Lazarus, even though he saw the poor man everyday at his gate. His total indifference was so callous that the only thing Jesus could compare it to was a deep chasm the rich man dug by being apathetic to Lazarus” conditions. Consequently the rich man could not go to the other side, nor could anyone come across to save him.
Jesus was saying that the chasm of apathy and arrogance is so deep and wide that even if a dead person comes back to life to warn about the danger of being indifferent to other people”s plight, the message would fall on deaf ears. Those who would dig ditches between them and other human beings are so blinded and deafened that they will not see or hear any warning.
We are observing world-wide communion this morning. It is a symbolic dinner table set by Jesus Christ, to which everyone who believes in him is invited. There is no barrier or chasm before the table prepared by Jesus. The United Church of Canada believes in open communion. That is to say, it is only Christ who invites the dinner guests, and we humans have no right to refuse anyone so long as this person believes in the saving grace of Jesus Christ and believes that he/she is invited. So, come with the rest of the world to the table of the Lord . And let us never cut ourselves off from the rest of creation.