Lauren Flowers Byrd+
On earth the rich man eats, the poor man begs; and in heaven the poor man eats, the rich man begs. It’s an old story found in the books of other ancient civilizations. Not only in Palestine but also in Ancient Greece and Egypt, told with local adaptations. An old story still with us today. As Jesus tells it, only the dogs pay attention to Lazarus. They come and lick his wounds. And then in the nick of time, Lazarus lands in the surpassing care of angels. What’s missing is the loving attention of other people. Our attention.
It’s what the prophets school us to practice: to show mercy and live generously. In the absence of our obedience to their teaching, the dogs show us how to begin again. They pay attention, as dogs do. They keep their eyes open, their noses close to ground. They move toward Lazarus, instead of away from him. They, and they alone, address the reality of his struggle while the rich man turns a blind eye.
Humanity has an unfortunate history of turning a blind eye on suffering right in front our noses. We have two lies we like to tell ourselves when bad things happen close to home: first, we like to say we didn’t know about it and never saw it coming. And second, we like to concede that even if we did see it coming, and even if we did know about it, there was nothing to be done. We like to plead ignorance or powerlessness.
You have to admit, the manager we meet in our gospel today is a real mess. Tradition names him The Dishonest Manager. And you can see why: after squandering what doesn’t belong to him, he chooses to roll up his sleeves and give away what doesn’t belong to him. And rather than clean up the mess he’s created, he seems to be making it worse. Like Lucille Ball on steroids. Even the part where it all comes right in the end. As if to say, things may look a mess, but hey, aint it funny how it all works out?
Jesus came into that same old mess. Call it the world we live in. And today, by way of this parable, he reaches toward us and, with a storied sleight of hand, steals into our pockets to pull them inside out. What he’s after is the recognition that our life and labor belong to God. We can squander them. Or we can give them away. Either way and ultimately, they do not belong to us. Read more
Every year at the start of September, I revisit a poem by Marge Piercy. It’s called To be of
use. In it she writes, I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, / who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, / who strain in the mud and muck to move things forward, / who do what has to be done, again and again. / I want to be with people who submerge / in the task, who go into the fields to harvest / and work in a row and pass the bags along, / who are not parlor generals and field deserters but move in a common rhythm / when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
To be of use is something we’re made for and something we remember this time of year as we begin the traditional season of harvest refreshed by summer rest. Labor Day is when we celebrate the gift of work. I’ve always thought it funny to lift up labor in the hope of not working at all.
Yesterday, though, landed many of us outside in the sun, not playing but working. People did their best to tame the riot of their lawns. Neighbors teamed together to address fallen trees blocking the roads. Churchyards were also alive with the work of setting things right again. Read more