Luke has grabbed us by the throats and refuses to let go with the texts from last week and this (last week was Luke 16:1-13) We are being called once again to justice. Rather than leaving it alone, we are being pushed a little more and a little harder to look honestly at ourselves and the role we play in life. How do we make money decisions and what are we controlled by in our daily lives?
The rich man walks past Lazarus every day yet does nothing. Do we have to do works for salvation? My whole tradition says that it is by grace alone that I am saved. And yet, how can we claim that grace if we do not recognize and embrace our connectedness. What exactly are all of the structures for government and for non-profit aid we have set in place for if not justice? Let's begin with a definition of the word. According to the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, justice is the concept of each person receiveing what is due with a Biblical emphasis on right relationships and everyone receiving a share of the resources of society.
Us capitalists have a hard time with this one. So many times we balk or flat out refuse to share our resources with those who are lazy or don't pull their weight. It is easier if the person is like Lazarus - wounded, not able to care for himself. But charity often comes with strings attached and restrictions whereas justice should not. And then, we often rely on the agencies of non-profits and churches to do the work. Perhaps it would be easier on ourselves to look at it in terms of relationship.
A common tale is of the college professor who is teaching a sociology class. The first question on his final exam is "What is the name of the janitor you walk past everyday to enter this classroom?" Few if any of the students can answer this simple question. Can we even begin to work for justice and sharing our wealth if we refuse to even acknowledge our neighbor sitting and struggling right next to us? Who do we walk past everyday with blinders carefully turned up?
I still believe that we are saved by grace alone, but I think these Luke parables are wake-up call to the importance of prioritizing people over money. Open our eyes and truly look at those around us. We are to work for systems and structures, and yes - a government - that cares for the people or creates systems that allow equal opportunities for individuals to be supported in the basics.
The call to use all of our gifts - be they skills or financial wealth - is a strong one. I think that the Confession of 1967 does an excellent job of summarizing:
The reconciliation of humankind through Jesus Christ makes it plain that enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation. Because Jesus identified himself with the needy and exploited, the cause of the world’s poor is the cause of his disciples. The church cannot condone poverty, whether it is the product of unjust social structures, exploitation of the defenseless, lack of national resources, absence of technological understanding, or rapid expansion of populations. The church calls all people to use their abilities, their possessions, and the fruits of technology as gifts entrusted to them by God for the maintenance of their families and the advancement of the common welfare. A church that is indifferent to poverty, or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only, or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and offers no acceptable worship to God. Amen.
My approach to the parables is to take the lesson from it rather than scrutinize each piece literally. For our context today, I believe that Luke is hammering home the importance of our relationships with one another. God desires us to be in relationship with one another and not to be schismatic and devisive. This is often work of welcoming in and supporting those who are different and those who disagree with many of the values we hold dear. Respect and allowing everyone common dignity through the sharing of our wealth for relationship rather than extravagance or purely for personal benefit is just the first step toward the justice summarized in the confession above and encompassed in Jesus' instructions in the parables about the wealthy.