For the Neighbor--Pt II

Week 5, Day 4

Matthew 22. 34-40

“Justice is what love looks like in public” Cornel West

Matthew 22. 34-40

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

Lk 16. 19-31 (Read the whole story below)

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores…”

Day after day Lazarus walks, crawls or is carried to lay at the rich man’s gate. Day after day the man of means (who has no name in the story) walks on by, sometimes stepping over poor Lazarus but apparently never really seeing him. The crumbs from the rich man’s well provisioned table would have satisfied Lazarus, perhaps even saved his life; but nothing falls his way.

“The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.”

And suddenly everything is upside down. Lazarus finds comfort and healing at Abraham’s table and the man of means finds himself in flames. But the fire has not yet done its work. The rich man, still clinging to his privilege, begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his aid.

But the man who could not spare a crumb from his table for Lazarus will not now receive a drop of water from Lazarus to cool his tongue. Lazarus has suffered enough and will not be sent again into the flames.

Then, in what seems a rare moment of concern for someone besides himself, the rich man pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers, “so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” But again Abraham refuses. “They have Moses and the prophets” he says. “They should listen to them.”

They have Moses. They know what justice looks like. They know how to do the right thing. If they won’t listen to Moses they won’t hear even if someone should return to them from the dead.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” Moses said (Deuteronomy 6.5). “Love your neighbor as yourself” Moses said (Leviticus 19.18). Lazarus would have nothing to say that they hadn’t already heard, and ignored.

Now this is, of course, a story. God is not in the torture business. Paradise is not a place where the blessed are smugly entertained by the sufferings of the damned. This tale says nothing about heaven or hell.

It says a great deal, however, about neighborliness; about equity and generosity and the benefit to everyone of sharing wealth. The rich man’s fault lay not in his riches, but in his vision—or rather his willing lack of vision. He didn’t “listen” to Moses, and so he couldn’t “see” Lazarus. He didn’t hear to the command to love his neighbor, and so he missed the opportunity to be a neighbor.

“Justice (doing the right thing) is what love looks like in public”. Neighborliness is a practice of justice that is within reach of us all. The benefit of being the neighbor, Jesus says in many places and in various ways, is not that we avoid the flames of Hades then, but that we experience joy of community here and now—that we live in the Kingdom of God now.

Prayer: God, we pray with St Francis, “Make us instruments of your peace”. May we enter the places where hearts are shut and hands are clenched and there be the open hearted, generous neighbors this world needs. Amen.