A love movement
Luke 16: 19 – end
19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 ‘The time came when the
beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”
25 ‘But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”
27 ‘He answered, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”
29 ‘Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”
30 ‘“No, father Abraham,” he said, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
31 ‘He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”’
Jesus did not found an institution, he started a movement!
When I was a child I dreaded going to the dentist. I had mumps while teething and as a result my teeth were chalky and crumbly so a visit to the dentist inevitably meant injections and bits of iron put in my mouth. I remember this long needle and on the end of it a glass bottle, bright yellow with whatever numbing concoction it contained. But then when I was about 12 I discovered the women’s magazines in the waiting room, I had never read such things before. ‘My husband left me for his step daughter’ ‘I ran away for love’ and the problem pages well, they were an education for a 12 year old boy growing up in the 70s.
For there is something in us that secretly delights in the stories of others, it is as though they are not quite real, just there for our entertainment. Perhaps the misnamed ‘reality’ television does the same for us as ‘love Island’ and similar become must watch programmes. Real, but not real, believable but not really.
31 ‘He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Jesus putting the words into the mouth of Abraham, Jesus talking of what was to come, the real and the unreal, the beggar at the gate, the rich man in his castle.
Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, the wealthy in control, the very poor there for entertainment. Shockingly in 2021 more than 1 in 3 homeless have been deliberately hit or kicked or experienced some other form of violence whilst homeless. Almost half have been intimidated or threatened with violence, almost 1 in 10 have been urinated on while sleeping, 6 in 10 have had been verbally abused or harassed whilst homeless and stats drone on and on, the poor man, the poor women at the gate, real but unreal.
Now sometimes I like to wonder, wonder what Jesus was thinking as he told the story, who or what was in sights. I wonder if Lazarus was the beggar at the gate of the institutions of Jesus’ day with its high walls, its rules, and structures, its wealth and privilege, its towers upon the hill dominating the area. I wonder if the rich man could be me, or you? I wonder if the God made in our own image, the blonde haired blue eyed Jesus, created to sit safely in our institutions is just a bit easier to cope with? The gentle Jesus meek and mild, or the swarthy dark haired, first century Jewish rabbi who eyed the religious establishment with deep disappointment, the rich man in his castle.
Blessed are the poor, he said, not because they are poor, but because in their poverty, in their woundedness they know their need of God.
This movement that Christ began, on a hill, 2000 years ago, was a movement that was all about beggars. Rich beggars, poor beggars, fat beggars, thin beggars, old beggars, child beggars, for only beggars make it to the Kingdom, for they know their poverty.
I wonder then, could I be the beggar as well? In those moments of yearning, that wondering in the darkness, the bleak times when it feels like nothing matters, can I be Lazarus too? I wonder if in his sores are my own wounds, I wonder if in his pleading for sustenance, for something to satisfy his being, for something to make things alright even if only for a day, for an hour, for a minute, is about me saying ‘I am hungry, I am thirsty, I am longing for hope, desperate for truth, pleading for life.’ I wonder…
For the rich man the beggar was at best to be ignored, at worse to be abused, for in doing so such a man could ignore his own wounds at the expense of another.
Yet it seems to me that if we are the rich man, all we are really is beggars who don’t acknowledge our own brokenness. And we are so good at that stuff, at not acknowledging, of hiding it all behind a smile, of keeping it in, pointing to others in our magazines and media as ways of hiding our own shame.
As for the person that doesn’t keep it in, the ones who let their sores be licked by the dogs, perhaps they are little more than attention seekers. Mental illness an excuse for poor behaviour, the claims of failed harvest and drought merely a cover up for cultural laziness. Perhaps they are not like us, for if we point at them we don’t have to acknowledge our own poverty, we protect ourselves, the rich man in his castle.
Then I wondered if the beggar at the gate is the rich person who has owned up, what has given him the courage to do so? The fear of the flames of hell? The words put in the mouth of Abraham? No option? Perhaps, everything is falling apart anyway? Or could it be that the movement that Jesus begun turned the world upside down precisely because it wasn’t an institution with its rules and laws and expectations, its fears and finger pointing. Could it be because this was a movement so counter cultural, so different to the way people are, so crown of thornish that owning our own brokenness is the safest, most wonderful thing to do, for as any addict will tell you owning up to our own brokenness is the start of a road to recovery.
It is a movement that finds God not in what we know but what we don’t, a movement that pushes us to the top of the hill to find love waiting for us, and plunges us into the deepest valley to find love is there too. It is a love movement, where the experts are the broken, and the fool sits in his castle believing himself wise, it is a movement that says ‘come to me all you are heavy laden and I will give you rest, because you matter, you really really do, that symbol of his love, his kingdom, the crown of thorns it says so.
For Jesus did not found an institution, he started a movement, a love movement for the beggar at the gate, and he called them family:
Shuffling, back bent, head bowed
Coat torn, shaking yellow hands,
Croaked profanities torn from toothless mouth.
Mincing steps, swaying hips,
Blonde wig, rouge applied,
Lipstick red on kiss blown mouth.
Hand outstretched, torn nails..
Dirty palms, crack drained eyes.
Shirt too big, shorts too small
Braying laugh, haughty glance,
Hands dismissive wave away,
I am… a buzzing irritation.
Thigh stretched skirt, purple.
Balloon jacket pink, with glitter
Deep tan, orange.
Laughing, crying, aching, breaking,
Healing, hurting, mending, snapping.
Holding, touching, hugging, hitting,
Hating, liking, loving, mocking,
Scaring, running, homeless, mansions,
Being, doing, hoping, becoming…