You Can’t Get There From Here

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Luke 16:19-31
Once upon a time there was a rich man who dressed in fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day. Though, to be fair, he wouldn’t have called himself rich. If you were to press him, yes, he would admit that he had done well for himself.

Were you to point out that he had just bought a house in the best neighborhood in town, he’d shrug and say, well, ‘every dog has his day.’ And as for fine linen, his shirt was actually a more wearable linen/cotton blend and while yes, it did cost $120, that was nothing considering how hard it is to find shirts that are made in factories that pay a fair wage.

As for sumptuous fare, yes, good food was one of his values. His friends joked with him about how much time he spent at the grocery store—or as he liked to call it—his neighborhood market—see that’s just the thing, food should be about local sourcing and genuine relationships, about knowing the farmer who raised the lamb you put on the brazier in your new outdoor kitchen. He’d be the first to admit that the flagstone fireplace was a bit over-the-top, but in more reflective moments, he’d tear up talking about how the whole idea was to just have a place the whole family could eat together. Outdoors.

The guy who worked at the farm that sourced the rich man’s food was named Lazarus. One day, while harvesting organic eggplant, Lazarus cut his hand on a thorn. He thought nothing of it and wrapped a bandana around his wrist to stop the bleeding. If he put his back into it, he’d still get 20 baskets that day. A whopping $30 for a 14 hours’ work. Missing time was missing money, so it was almost a month later before Lazarus stopped long enough to get it looked at by some nurses from Atlanta who set up a clinic in the field. The infection had spread up his arm. Gangrene, the doc said. Amputation, or death by sepsis.

But the rich man never saw this. Between him and the people who picked his food a great barrier had been fixed alongside the highway.

As it turns out, Lazarus also had a side job cutting grass for the rich man. At least he could still ride a mower. One day, as he was mowing on an incline, the riding mower tipped over on him. Lazarus cried out, “Help! Help! I’ve cut my foot, and I’m bleeding very badly.”

But the man who had done very well for himself could not hear Lazarus, because between the two of them there had been fixed some very thick windows—the double panes of ¼” glass were insulated with Argon gas to keep the noise at a level best described as contemplative, while the low-E coating on the outside protected the rich man’s furniture from UV damage and help keep his power bill low. Saving money, saving the environment, and saving his sanity—now that was honoring his intentions toward the “triple bottom line!”

At that moment Lazarus died, and by some unforeseen aneurysm, so did the rich man.
The man who had done very well for himself in life found that in death, he was not being treated the least bit kindly. While he wasn’t in a lake-of-fire-type-situation, he did find that he had an awful taste in his mouth—a bitter taste he couldn’t get rid of.
Just then he saw Father Abraham, and said,

“I thought it was supposed to be St. Peter waiting at the gate.”
“That’s over in heaven.” Abraham answered.
“This isn’t heaven? Then what is this place?
“Ehh…it’s kinda like the Jewish waiting room for the afterlife.”
“Yeah, but…I’m not Jewish.”
“A lot of people have a hard time with that part.”
“Hey, there’s that guy who used to cut my grass! What was his name? Oh yeah, Lazarus. Hey dude, what’s up? Hey, if you don’t mind…I mean, I know there’s like an ethnic dynamic here and all, but could you bring me some water—sparkling water if you got it. And I don’t mean to be picky, but Pellegrino, please, its smaller bubbles make for a much softer mouth feel.”
“He can’t hear you.”
“What do you mean, he can’t hear me?”
“You didn’t hear him in life, now he can’t hear you in death.”
“I heard him plenty! I liked his business on Facebook. Lazarus Lawn Care: You Raise ‘Em Up, We Cut ‘Em Down—so clever.”
“The chasm that separated you in life has been fixed in death. Only now you’re on opposite sides of the divide.”
“You mean like the digital divide?”
“Something like that.”
“O.k. I get it. I overstepped a bit with the Pellegrino thing. How ‘bout this for an afterlife tryout? Could you at least ask him in a super-nice way to run down to my old neighborhood and tell everybody to stop using leaf blowers—two cycle engines are terrible for the environment—not to mention the noise pollution.”
“The glass that kept the noise out in life has been fixed permanently. You called the shots in life, but in death, your voice will not be heard.”
“That’s not fair. How was I supposed to know that all that noise out there was being made by real people? How was I supposed to know that there was some life I was supposed to live beyond the one I curated?”
“Had you listened to the words of the prophets and the commands of Moses, you would have been kind to the stranger and the alien. But you payed extra to make sure you never felt like a stranger.”
“Words of Moses? What are you talking about, dude? Everybody knows the Old Testament is like… I dunno…all judgment and sacrifice. Nobody reads that stuff anymore! I was more of a Christ-follower type. Oh, that’s it! When in trouble, just ‘call on the name of Jesus!’ Jesus, help me! Jesus!”
“For a lot of people there will come a day when they cry out Lord Lord! but you had your chance at Jesus. You could have encountered Him in the face of the incarcerated, the poor, and the abused.”
“Yeah, but I never heard Jesus say anything about that.”
“You spent your days eating and drinking, downloading and uploading, —maximizing the yield of everything from your orgasms to your organic groceries–but never once did you hear the voices shouting in the streets for justice.”
“Voices shouting in the streets? What are you talking about, dude? I hashtagged #BlackLivesMatter on several occasions. I had two or three friends on Black Twitter.”
“Did you really care, or were you obsessed with appearing to?”
“But I do care. I can prove it to you. Look, just send somebody to go tell my friends at church. Tell them all that stuff you just said. They’ll believe if you send somebody back from the dead.”
“Take it from me, Son, the Word of One risen from the dead is the last thing church folks want to hear.”

Image Credit: The Danger of Wealth by James Janknegt

Serving Wealth

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113
1Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

The gospel reading for this Sunday is one of the stranger passages in the New Testament. The steward is identified as both unrighteous and clever. In addition, it looks like the master who tells his steward that he is being fired for embezzlement then commends him a few verses later for fraud. It gets worse. When Jesus says that you cannot serve God and wealth it would seem that in the parable we are invited to see the master as God. As you might imagine, this passage invites a lot of scholarly gymnastics. Read more

Rich Towards God

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Luke 12:13-21
I work in development for a Human Services non-profit that meets people’s basic needs, while we advocate for systems that distribute resources in a more just and equitable manner. As a result, I spend 40+ hours a week thinking about people and our relationship to resources, primarily money. People who have it; people who need it; the systems in this country, county, town that have privileged and continue to privilege some people’s ability to amass it.

I think a lot about how to motivate people who have money to share it, but I also wonder why our society – our life together as organized through a system that we call government – is structured such that basic needs are not considered a right or subsequently funded with public dollars, i.e. our gathered resources. Honestly, it would be great if jobs like mine didn’t exist because the political will to care well for each other did. So, I welcome Luke’s willingness to talk bluntly about our relationship to resources. To be honest, I could use some help in knowing what to think. Read more

To Heal the Sin-Sick Soul


Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 or Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

“…most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.”
-David Bentley Hart

“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

In a 2016 essay in Commonweal, Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, described how translating the New Testament drove him to the distressing conclusion that Jesus and his early followers meant – and lived – what they said about the dangers of wealth. As one would expect, defenders of wealth as an intrinsic good, unhappy with Hart’s essay, wrote strongly-worded rebuttals Hart, well known for his erudition and verbal cantankerousness, leaves few readers neutral about his message or person. His work typically includes something to make everyone unhappy, but while other theologians may reject his arguments and interpretations, they rarely dismiss him as uninteresting. He’s not the sort whose work is readily neutered into comforting pablum.

His point in the essay is that’s precisely what Christianity has done to texts like this Sunday gospel reading, turning the demanding communal practice of material poverty into a spiritualized individual attitude, a change of thought rather than a way of life. Hart, like me, knows this sin from the inside. Indeed, most Christians in the global North who write against making this gospel demand safe for the modern consumer stand convicted by their own words. What I call voluntary simplicity looks unimaginably opulent to the roughly one billion fellow humans currently living on less than $2.00 per person per day. Read more

Why Do We Build the Wall?

EP endorser Tony Hunt offers this meditation on a theme from this past summer’s gathering:

Immigration, the Church, and Hadestown

Since the Ekklesia Project Gathering this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on how immigration is explored by one of the better records of 2010: Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown, a folk opera that reinterprets the classical story of Eurydice and Orpheus. Read more