Rich.Pent18C.2007

Pentecost 18C, 2007
Luke 16:19-31


A Liturgy is also available

OUR THINKING, FEELING AND BEHAVING, ARE SACRED TASKS

We live in rather tenuous times.
From rock-throwing violence at freeway commuters,
to terrorism by one group against another or nation.

Many of us feel violated and outraged.
The peace we once reckoned we enjoyed, is gone.

And, most of us, if we believe opinion polls,
want a target as a focal point of our collective frustration - even bile.
So where does tolerance and compassion
and ‘new possibilities’ fit into our living?

oo0oo

The unnamed rich man in Luke’s story was a man of great style.
A member of the ruling urban elite, he wore a contented smile
and dined each day on a feast.

He was not violent or uncharitable.
He didn’t kick the poor man, named Lazarus, every time he went in or out.
His violence was of apathy and neglect
which widened the chasm between rich and poor.

He was blind to the person and blind to the need.
His pursuit of great wealth, so the storyteller implies, had taken over his life.

And while Luke the storyteller may have taken a local folk tale
and changed it around a bit to suit the needs of his audience,
what he was not going to change was his passion:
where does compassion and solidarity with others, fit into our living?

So taking a hint from this ancient storyteller,
let me stitch together bits and pieces of some of Luke’s other stories
where I reckon his passion for compassion and solidarity is evident.

oo0oo

At the beginning of Luke's collection, in Mary’s Song of Praise
often called the ‘Magnificat’, are these words:
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

And this theme is played out in other stories.

In the ‘Blessings and Woes’ Luke says:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled...
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Likewise, in the ‘Parable of the Rich Fool’, Luke says:
Jesus told a parable:
The land of a rich man produced abundantly...  And the man said:
‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you...’

For Luke the overriding problem of great wealth in a culture of limited goods
was the way it took over people’s lives.
It made them deaf to discovering new possibilities
and blind to the sufferings of ordinary, real people, their neighbours.

oo0oo

This month is September.  Even if it is the last day of September.
But this month was the 6th anniversary of what is now called ‘911’.
Much has been spoken about and filmed and written
in the aftermath of those terrorist attacks
on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the USA.

Some of what has been said, usually by some political leaders, was frightening.

Six years ago when I searched some of my usual web site haunts around the world,
I came across a transcript of a radio commentary by an
American professor of political science and international relations.

Her comments on 911 also touch on this ancient Lukan folk tale ‘cum parable.
Let me share some of what she said back then:
'...there is no justification whatsoever for this carnage.  But it behooves us to ask what the terrorists’ anger was about, because it is no doubt shared by millions.  It’s a good guess that it has to do with two things: US foreign policy and the global distribution of wealth… Few want to talk about it, but the grandeur of the World Trade Centre and the concentration of wealth in the United States are symbols of a world divided between the ultra-rich and the miserably poor...'

When I made similar points in a Letter to the Editor of the Canberra Times,
I was attacked by (NN), in another newspaper, the Chronicle.
Some of you may remember his ill-informed outburst.

In more recent times, the Israeli government this week announced
draconian new measures to reduce electricity and fuel deliveries to Gaza.
The reason given - a response to continuing rocket attacks
against the Israeli town of Sderot.

These attacks are reprehensible and contemptible,
but collective punishment upon an entire civilian population
is profoundly immoral  (Rabbi Arthur Waskow/Shalom Centre web site, 2007).

A number of leading Israeli intellectuals have signed a petition
calling for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.

Leaving political comment aside and turning to cinema.

In the acclaimed film The colour purple, one of Alice Walker’s characters, Shug,
suggests that God is constantly trying to get our attention.
She says that is why the colour purple exists.
Purely to get us to notice its beauty.
Many of us, unfortunately, often have other preoccupations.

Or if you agree with Hugh Mackay, we in Australia have been, for the last seven or years,
caught up in a Dreamy Period, where we have been in retreat
“disengaged; nursing their reform fatigue; seeking the therapy of distraction from their uncertainties and anxieties about the state of the world.  Faced with the threat of international terrorism, we curled up into little balls of self-absorption.  Faced with Iraq, we turned on the barbeque.  Faced with bad news on TV, we switched to programs about home renovations and backyards” 
(Mackay 15.9.07. SMH Pg:42).
And we have missed the colour and the need, and the new possibilities.

Luke’s story seeks to nudge us, his 21st century audience,
just a little about the ‘ultra-rich and the miserably poor’.

oo0oo

The rich man in Luke’s story was a person of great style.
He wore a contented smile and dined each day on a feast.

From all accounts he was not vicious or uncharitable.
Neither did he kick the poor man every time he went in or out.
His violence was of apathy and neglect
which widened the chasm between the ultra-rich and miserably poor.
He was blind to the person and blind to the need.

My theology mentor, Henry Nelson Wieman, reminds me, all living requires energy.  He writes:
“Living might be defined as transformation of energy into activities of thinking, feeling, and behavio[u]r”  (Wieman 1930:69).

Now I want to claim that religion, progressive religion, is an essential part
of the energy for living – essential to our thinking, feeling, and behaviour.
For progressive religion seeks to transform the individual and the world
so all of us are not blind to the need of others.

But thinking and living religiously is also about being in an atmosphere
where we can explore ‘new possibilities’, as sacred tasks.
Where that urge and passion to explore and respond and stand in solidarity,
can rub off on you…

And that you may become so glad they did rub off!

May that be our story.


Notes:
Mackay, H. 2007.  "Waking up scratchy from the Dreamy Period" in Sydney Morning Herald, Weekend edition, 15-16 September, Pg: 42.
Wieman, H. N. 1030.  The issues of life. NY: New York. Abingdon Press.

rexae74@gmail.com