by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The lessons for Sunday, September 29, 2013:
First Reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7
First Reading (Semi-cont.): Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm: Psalm 146
Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
Second Reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-19
Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
This Sunday, the Gospel returns to familiar themes with the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus is so poor that he hopes for crumbs from the rich man's table and has to tolerate the dogs licking his sores (or perhaps this is a form of early medicine). Lazarus has nothing, and the rich man has everything. When Lazarus dies, he goes to be with Abraham, where he is rewarded. When the rich man dies, he is tormented by all the hosts of Hades. He pleads for mercy, or just a drop of water, and he's reminded of all the times that he didn't take care of the poor. He asks for a chance to go back to warn his family, and he's told, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead."
Maybe by now you're feeling a bit frustrated: week after week of reminders that we shouldn't get too comfortable with our worldly possessions. Maybe you suspect the Council who chose this common lectionary of readings of being just a tad socialist.
Yet those who study (and tabulate!) such things would remind us that economic injustice is one of the most common themes in the Bible. To hear the Christians who are most prominently in the media, you'd think that the Bible concerned itself with homosexuality.
Not true. In his book, God's Politics, Jim Wallis tells of tabulating Bible verses when he was in seminary: "We found several thousand (emphasis his) verses in the Bible on the poor and Gods' response to injustice. We found it to be the second most prominent theme in the Hebrew Scriptures Old Testament--the first was idolatry, and the two often were related. One of every sixteen verses in the New Testament is about the poor or the subject of money (mammon, as the gospels call it). In the first three (Synoptic) gospels it is one out of ten verses, and in the book of Luke, it is one in seven" (page 212).
And how often does the Bible mention homosexuality? That depends on how you translate the Greek and how you interpret words that have meanings that cover a wide range of sexual activity--but at the most, the whole Bible mentions homosexuality about twelve times.
If we take the Bible as the primary text of Christianity, and most of us do, the message is clear. God's place is with the poor and oppressed. The behavior that most offends God is treating people without love and concern for their well being--this interpretation covers a wide range of human activity: using people's bodies sexually with no concern for their humanity, cheating people, leaving all of society's destitute and despicable to fend for themselves, not sharing our wealth, and the list would be huge, if we made an all-encompassing list.
It might leave us in despair, thinking of all the ways we hurt each other, all the ways that we betray God. But again and again, the Bible reminds us that we are redeemable and worthy of salvation. Again and again, we see the Biblical main motif of a God who wants so desperately to see us be our best selves that God goes crashing throughout creation in an effort to remind us of all we can be.
Some prosperity gospel preachers interpret this motif of a God who wants us to be rich. In a way, they're right--God does want us to be rich. But God doesn't care about us being rich in worldly goods. Anyone who has studied history--or just opened their eyes--knows how quickly worldly goods can be taken away. But those of us who have dedicated our lives to forging whole human relationships and helping to usher in the Kingdom now and not later--those of us rich in love are rich indeed.