Separation from the Poor

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linens and dined sumptuously each day.  And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”  (Luke 16:19-21)

Both died.  Lazarus was taken by angels to Abraham’s side, while the rich man ended up in hell.  In torment, the rich man asked Abraham to let Lazarus come and dip his finger in water to cool the rich man’s tongue.  Abraham reminded the rich man that in life he had received good things and Lazarus only bad things, but now Lazarus was being comforted, and the rich man was in torment.  Furthermore, there was a great chasm, separating them that neither could cross.

In this parable, it did not appear that the rich man had violated any of the Ten Commandments as set out in Exodus 20 or Jewish law.  But he may have violated Jesus’ commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

The rich man’s sin was not that he was rich.  It was his indifference. Even though Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate, the rich man never noticed him each day as he passed by.  The rich man had let his wealth and way of life separate him from the people in need of his day.

By historical standards, many of us in America today would likely be considered rich.  We do not want for food, shelter or clothing.  We have employment that enables us to live in a home we have purchased and provide for our families. 

Our circumstances may have the effect of separating us from people like Lazarus.  They still exist, but we don’t see them.  We do not see them in our neighborhoods.  We don’t see them at work or in our churches.  There may be the occasional homeless person begging at an intersection or Metro stop.  But for the most part, unless we take some affirmative action to step outside of our circumstances, our default response tends to separate us from the very poor of our world.

When I read this story I struggle with how much my life is separated from those in need, and the consequences that can result if I do not seek to remedy that separation. 

So, we write checks and give used clothes to various organizations assisting the poor.  I keep some dollars handy in the console of my car for the homeless soliciting at an intersection.  I volunteer in the Chaplain’s office at the county jail, and before COVID, took communion on occasion to the sick and elderly.   But do these things fulfill the King’s message in the Parable of The Judgment of the Nations?

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

Do your life’s circumstances separate you from the poor, and if so, what can you do about it?

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