The lectionary readings for this week were from Jeremiah 32 and Luke 16. I decided to go with the Jeremiah passage for preaching. The Luke passage was the story of Lazarus the beggar. I did some early work on that story before I changed course and went with Jeremiah buying the field in Anathoth as the Babylonians were storming the gates of the city. Both powerful stories.
Lazarus is the only named person in any of Jesus' parables. Think of that. A poor, hungry, beggar who was covered with sores and who sat at the gate of a rich man for years. His only friends were the dogs who came and gave him some relief. But of human aid there was none. The rich man knew his name, too, but he never gave him any help. We are supposed to see that the rich man was very rich and Lazarus was very poor. In death, the rich man ended up in Hades and suffering while Lazarus was at Abraham's side. He was carried there by the angels while the rich man was buried. So, the tables are turned.
I think we are to see that God knew Lazarus's name. He meant something to God even when he had little worth to human beings. From many Scripture passages we know God has a special concern for the poor and oppressed. That is what we see here.
People can make a name for themselves but those who no one knows and whose suffering seems to be invisible - are not forgotten by God. Here in Luke 16, Lazarus enjoys a rich afterlife while the rich man suffers.
I was reminded of a story from my early days as a pastor. I met a man who looked homeless but actually lived in an apartment house in one room subsidized by the government. He barely functioned. I don't remember how we met but I know we had him to our home for an occasional meal and even for Thanksgiving one year. He mostly sat in the corner mumbling. I would call on him at his room, sit on his bed, and try to talk to him while he rolled cigarettes with tobacco stained fingers and mostly mumbled. One day I tried his door and it was locked. I came back that same day and it was still locked. Thinking it strange, I got a hold of the building supervisor and he unlocked the door. The man lay face down on his bed, dead. Dead for several days the police figured. He had no family that I knew of. He had no money. Welfare had a paupers allowance to bury him with. I got some people from church and we had a graveside service for Frank. Frank was his name.
I read in the NY Times this week about an isolated tent camp in Haiti set up after the earthquake. Thousands of people have been living there for months. Someone put up a suggestion box for people to communicate with NGO's. The idea has taken off. There are some thank you's written to the many organizations which are still there providing aid. There are also desperate cries for help. "Please, do something! We don't want to die from hunger and also we want to send our children to school. I give glory to God that I am still alive - but I would like to stay that way! Signed, Ms. Saint Hilaire
1.3 million Haitians are homeless now in 1,300 camps which have suggestion boxes. Most of the suggestions are expressions of suffering like the one above. Some say, I can't sleep, or I am discouraged, or I had a baby who died and I have six other children who don't have a father, and my tarp leaks and the rain panics me and I don't have money to feed my family and I would really love it if you would help me. Signed, Marie Jean Jean
Most of the people sign their names. Hoping someone is listening.