Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Gospel I Wanna Reject

One of my closest friends, recently ordained as a priest in the Episcopal church, sent me a copy of the sermon she's going to preach this Sunday.  I liked the sermon a lot.  The only problem is that I don't much like the gospel story on which it's based.  We're talking here about the parable of the rich man who is indifferent to the hunger and suffering of his poor neighbor, Lazarus.  I don't like that gospel story because I see myself in the rich man.  I see him in me.  (Maybe that's why Lazarus gets a name and the rich man doesn't.  Fill in your own name, in other words, if the shoe fits.)  I'm the one who is experiencing material comfort right now--and, quite honestly, for all of my life up to this point.  (Sure, I bought groceries at Aldi's during graduate school, but I was always able to buy plenty of them.  And if I had needed my parents' assistance--as I sometimes did--I could put out a call to my parents.)

Make no mistake.  I don't really want Lazarus's misery.  I don't view him in romantic, grandiose terms.  I want desperately to avoid his fate, his suffering, while on this earth--both for myself and for those whom I love.  But I also do not want to hear Jesus calling me out for enjoying my creature comforts while the poor--the poor within thirty miles of me, as well as the poor around the globe--suffer in very palpable ways.  It's painful to think that Jesus means me--not somebody else, not some abstract entity who exists in some other society--when he's telling this story.  It's me who has not helped them--not nearly enough--in meeting their material needs.  It's me who has not done enough to respect and protect their human dignity.  It's not that guy to the left of me Christ is talking about, nor the woman on my right.  I'm the one he's pointing his finger at every time I hear this story.

I don't like this Sunday's gospel.  Which is a pretty potent sign that this is the gospel, perhaps more so than any other gospel proclaimed throughout the year, that I most need to hear.  The one I need to wrestle with, pray over, reread.  And more than all that, the one I need to figure out a way to do something about.

If I end up in hell some day (please God, no), my guess is that it's my sins of omission that will get me there, not stuff I've done.  Too much good untapped; too many good intentions not put to work.  And too many Christs-in-need walking around whom I ignored for too long.

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