Thursday, April 25, 2013

Begging (Luke 16:19-20)

(Jesus said) "Once there was a rich person who dressed in purple and linen and feasted splendidly every day. At the gate of this person's estate lay a beggar named Lazarus, who was covered in sores."
Luke  16:19-20

Beggar and Child

As the parable continues both the rich person and the beggar die. Up until the point of death all is at it should be. The rich man rightly enjoys the luxury afforded by his hard earned wealth. Lazarus subsist as one fallen through society’s cracks. It is what happens after death that proves shocking. The rich person goes to Hades, or hell, while Lazarus is welcomed into the bosom of Sarah and Abraham, or heaven.

Today we wouldn’t give a second thought as to the fate of these two individuals. Back when the parable was first uttered their fates were scandalous. It was assumed that material wealth was a sign of God’s favor and blessing. It was also assumed that poverty was an indication of God’s judgment on a life characterized by sin.

The parable flies in the face of the prevailing folk wisdom and confronts a society about its prejudice toward those living in poverty, its uncritical eye toward the accumulation of wealth, and its assumptions about God’s favor and disfavor. Much like some in our time understand homosexuality as a mark of God’s disfavor. 

Through this parable we are invited to critique the folk wisdom which assumes all things heterosexual are favored by God, while all things homosexual and gender diverse are disfavored by God. This parable wrestles with the all too human tendency to project our bigotry onto God. To cast those we favor as loved by God, and those we disdain as hated by God. The parable has an astonishing power to resist our efforts to make our enemies into God’s enemies. 

While I embrace the strategy of social critique this parable uses, I am reminded of the wisdom I learned long ago: “If you read the bible and find yourself being vindicated, you have misread it.” Which tells me that if I read this parable with my own prejudice with homophobic people burning in hell while all gay people rest in the bosom of Sarah and Abraham, I have failed to hear its critique within my own life.

We are challenged with the question “Who begs at our gates?” It is a hard question to hear when you feel you’ve been the beggar. Les-bi-gay-trans-queer-inter-asexual folk – in my humble experience – are dogged by the blind eye we ourselves turn to the prejudice we participate in: our tendency to assume we know what others are thinking about us; the disdain and dismissal between queer people; the pejorative attitude of those who are out of the closet toward those who are in the closet. 

This parable is uncomfortable for it challenges us where we live in the house of the soul/self. Its question, though simple, is haunting: “Who begs at your gate?”

How shall we answer?

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