I can still picture my dad leaning back in his chair with his hands tented together in that philosophical pose he took from time to time. I smiled then and still do to remember him so, knowing that whenever those fingers came together in that way he was about to say something he thought mattered. And this one did, it seems to me. Or at least it has stayed with me these many decades, for I can still hear his voice saying in response to some complaint about some childhood injustice: “All bills get paid.”
And oh, this is so, isn’t it?
Actions have consequences, although sometimes one has to wait a lifetime to see such justice achieved. Indeed, this was apparently the case in the story Jesus tells today of the rich man and Lazarus. No, indeed, it seems the rich man does not ‘pay’ for his indifference to Lazarus at his gate until long after there was time for him to make amends. Either way, he does pay a price, doesn’t he? And in this case, it would appear, he paid an eternal one.
It is so that in the past when I have reflected on the images before us now, I have concluded that the rich man did not even see poor Lazarus suffering at his gate. (If you wish, you can read my thoughts in “God is My Help”: Seeing Lazarus and in The Rich Man and Lazarus.) On this reading, though, I am struck by the fact that the rich man knew Lazarus not only by sight, but by name. Oh, he saw him, it seems, in all of his comings and goings. He just didn’t care. Or at least he did not care enough to do what he could to ease his suffering. What he surely could not see, though, was that the future of Lazarus and his own future were, in the end, all bound up with one another.
And so it is today, I am thinking of the countless times I have encountered “Lazarus” at my own front door, sometimes even face to face.
I think of Erica whose car had been damaged in an accident, making it difficult to get to work to support her son and her mother who recently moved in having been recently burned out of her apartment. The limited funds I have to work with would not allow me to pay off her repair bill, but we had enough to pay a month’s rent for her since she lives in subsidized housing. I visited with her a while and she told me of her hope of becoming a ‘barber.’ She says that once she gets her license she wants volunteer to cut the hair of homeless people — men, mostly. Because you see, Erica knows already that our futures are all bound up together.
Or I think of the woman who wrote me from prison last week. Her life has been marked by neglect, domestic violence, an unstable childhood, getting pregnant and giving birth too young, homelessness, and drug abuse. She is 37 years old and she told me she only learned to read and write two years ago. She is serving time in an Illinois prison because she lost her temper and stole someone’s car and drove it across the country. It seems to me that because she was not given what she needed when she was a child, today we pay for her incarceration. Because our futures are all bound up together.
And I think of Cecil, who a kind heart-ed member of our congregation discovered sleeping outside the church on a warm summer’s day. She brought him inside with all of his worldly possessions in tow. We tried to visit with him, but while the words he was speaking made sense, the ways in which he was stringing them together in sentences did not. When asked, it seemed he needed everything, but most of all a place to stay. In the end, we drove him across town Hope Haven, our homeless shelter, and introduced him to the staff there. By then poor Cecil was in a panic. He did not want to be there and instead was asking for a ride to the bus station so he could return to Chicago. The director of Hope Haven promised him they would help him get home and I left him in their care. And I wonder, I do, where he is today and how our futures are all bound up together.
And yes, I think of the story I only just heard on the news about the effects of climate change in Guatemala. I heard about how small farmers are struggling and children are dying of starvation. I heard that 100,000 Guatemalans have migrated to the United States in the last several years. And yes, I heard that United States humanitarian aid has been cut off to this poor country because we have redirected such resources to border security. And oh, doesn’t it go without saying that the poor people who come here seeking life are in fact “Lazarus” at our front door or back door or southern door? And isn’t it also true that our neglect and abuse of the planet is requiring ‘bills to be paid” even now? Indeed, isn’t it obvious that if we don’t help “Lazarus” now, we will be called upon to do so later? Because in this present time and in the future we share, we are, in fact, all bound up together. (This piece from National Geographic is a little dated, but tells the story well: “Changing Climate Forces Desperate Guatemalans to Migrate.”
I am still learning the lesson of this parable of course, but this much I do know. I can see ‘Lazarus.’ I know ‘his’ name. Now and then I even know ‘his’ story. And no, I don’t really believe Jesus tells this story now as a kind of threat as to what will become of us if we don’t tend “Lazarus” now. Rather, it is an urgent reminder that our futures are all bound up together. And remembering this, to do all we can to live like this is so. And there will be richness and blessing in that. At least, even in small ways as I am learning, I have found this to be so.
- My dad always insisted that “all bills get paid.” More and more I do believe this to be so even if we are not able to always see the consequences. Certainly the story of the rich man and Lazarus is an example of this. Where have you seen this to be so?
- Where have you encountered “Lazarus?” Where and how have you discovered that ‘our futures are all bound up together?’
- If you are preaching this week, what stories might you offer to help awaken or deepen the message of this parable among those who gather?