Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Be Rich in Good Works…Talk is Cheap


The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is in keeping with many of our recent discussions and typical of Luke’s Gospels in which we encounter a number of assumptions and reversals.  The first reversal is that the beggar is given a name and the rich man is not.

When we encounter the poor or homeless we are moved to pity and a desire to help. Yet, too often this desire or inclination stops with the intention. It’s not that we don’t care; we really do, but something happens to cause us to “look the other way,” just long enough for us to put the “urge” out of our minds and for us to forget it. Let’s face it, getting physically involved with those who are “different” from us can make us a little uncomfortable. Perhaps the operative word here is “different.”

So it is with the rich man in this parable.  Both characters die and Lazarus is with Abraham in paradise and the rich man is in hell. While the story does not have a judgment scene, we assume that the rich man is not condemned because of his wealth but because he was “indifferent” to the plight of Lazarus. He did nothing to relieve his suffering in this life. Lazarus was not in the rich man’s line of sight because he was different …and the rich man was indifferent.

Yet doesn’t the rich man reveal a certain compassion and “piety” when he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to “warn” his brothers? Doesn’t this “better late than never piety” count for anything? No, it really doesn’t…the road to hell is paved with the best intentions. Jesus is telling us that piety and talk are cheap grace; it’s what we do with our wealth, i.e., our time, our abilities and our resources that count. While the rich man could have helped Lazarus before, he did not, and Lazarus cannot do anything to help the rich man now.

This Gospel stresses the urgency for us to act in this lifetime and suggests that the righteous and the “wicked” may see each other after death…but if they are attentive to the presence of the Kingdom of God, they may see both each other while on this earth.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Crime and Punishment

I think Alfred Hitchcock must have liked Luke. Likewise, I’m sure Luke would have been a big fan of Hitchcock’s films, many of which had twisted endings in which crime and punishment were somehow turned upside down and left us wondering what just happened. And so it is with Luke 16: 1-13. We’re convinced that the dishonest manager is finished, but is he?

Most of us have jobs that conform to specific job descriptions that are beholden to specific performance standards to which we are accountable. If our performance exceeds expectations, we are rewarded; likewise, if our performance falls short of expectations, we can be subject to remediation, probation and dismissal. Now the “dishonest manager,” as Jesus has already named him, is an “employee at will” and fired without so much as an opportunity to speak, much less redeem himself. The rich man was completely in his right to fire him for squandering his property.
So, here’s Luke’s surprise ending: instead of being punished and used as a model for bad behavior, the manager is given credit for being shrewd because he feathered his own nest by ingratiating himself to his employer’s debtors by discounting what is owed without any authorization. Instead of being thrown in jail, he was acknowledged for using his resources to provide for his future as he was forced to leave his job. I don’t think we would regard the manager as a model citizen but he was able to secure his future by establishing new friendships of those who were at one time in his debt. The dishonest manager was not respectable because he defied the law. Couldn’t the same be said for Jesus? He broke all the laws and was executed.

Jesus refused to yield to the love of power and lived the power of love by defying the hypocrisy of those who sit in judgment. He reached out with compassion to the “crooks” and “sinners” in us all, who might otherwise never feel worthy of meeting the expectations of a “harsh judge.”

Are there those we dismiss or overlook as though they have no value? How about those whose lifestyle is different from ours…do we dismiss them as having nothing worth contributing? Are they too young, too old, and too impaired to add anything to our lives and to our Church? Looking for the good in people is impossible if we treat them as having no redemptive value. 

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” (Mother Theresa)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

You were never out of my sight

We all know what it’s like to lose something or someone. We all know that feeling that borders on fear, if not actual fear. Reading Luke 15:1-10 reminds us to think about how we felt when we experienced loss, and the joy we felt when we were “reunited.”

One of my most memorable experiences with loss goes back to a time when I was a child, not more than five, at the crowded beach in Coney Island. I suppose I got a little bored sitting on the blanket alone with my mother and baby sister and wanted to get some water to bring back and make a sand castle. Mom resisted my going to the shore unattended and did not want to leave my sister sleeping and alone. I convinced her that I would not get lost and would be always aware of where she was. Mom relented and so I made my way with my metal pail and shovel in tow, carefully drawing a line in the sand with my foot. I played at the surfside for a bit, filled my pail and turned to make my way back to the blanket. Of course, the line I’d made was gone and I immediately panicked...not because I couldn’t see my mother but because I couldn’t find the line in the sand leading back to her. I remember being overcome with fear and began crying. A woman standing nearby came to my aid, and assured me that we would find my mother, who appeared, I’m sure, within seconds, although it must have seemed like hours to a lost child. I can still recall what I felt when my mother gathered me up in her arms and held me close, telling me I was not lost and that I was always in her sight. I suppose the reason I can still remember this event so vividly is because of the “palpable” effect it had and continues to have. 
I can somehow relate this childhood experience with the two parables Jesus uses to describe lost and found and wonder what is more memorable, the fear of being lost or the joy of being found? In both instances Luke depicts the joy the shepherd and woman experience in finding what was lost. There was no recrimination just joy, as we are never out of His sight.
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

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Once again, Jesus’ message makes us a little uncomfortable. Did he not go a little too far when he tells us in Luke 14:25-33   "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple?”

We have all been involved in the planning of a party either as hosts or as guests. We have all experienced the initial excitement in discussing plans. But how many times do we renege or receive polite apologies when it comes time to commit? Are you or we coming to the party? Isn’t this a little how we feel in reading Luke’s gospel? How do we politely decline Jesus’ invitation to the banquet; it sounded so good in the planning stage but isn’t this a lot to ask of us right now; can I take a rain check? I’d like to but I’m not sure I have what it takes to get involved right now. I know He will understand.

After all these weeks we finally understand that Luke has a reason for speaking so directly to his audience, who while relatively affluent, was living in difficult times. Luke’s world was not a peaceful one; the Jews and early Christians faced a domination system that threatened their existence. In helping us understand Luke, David Steindl-Rast tells us that metaphor speaks to our intellect through our poetic sensibility. He suggests that reading the Bible or Gospel requires that we tune into the language of metaphor which asks that we take it seriously but not take it literally. And so it is in this reading of Luke.

Now back to Jesus’ invitation. I suppose we can ask for a rain check but in the long… and short run, we are hurting ourselves. By saying “no” to Jesus’ invitation-  “maybe later” - we are denying ourselves the opportunity to experience the Kingdom of God not just later, but right now, here in the present. Living for others out of our love for God, is the only way to find joy, peace, and a repaired relationship with God and each other in this world and in the hereafter. This is at the heart of Luke’s gospel and at the heart of Christianity.
By now we’ve learned that following Jesus is more than just sitting back and listening to a beloved teacher. Jesus’ words are meant to get us to move and to give up those things that get in the way and to surrender to His will. In essence this is what it means to be transformed in His likeness and what it means to be part of the “Body of Christ.” We don’t want to miss this party