Rich man, poor man. You know them. Rich can mean a lot of things, and so can poor. There’s a story told about a homeless man who slept in doorways, enduring a life of debilitating illness, eating whatever scraps were thrown his way. It was easy to ignore him, maybe not see him at all. It was also easy to dismiss him with disgust as someone who was just a lazy bum unwilling to work, satisfied to live off handouts. Anyway, as the story goes, a wealthy man who, never had much time or regard for the homeless man, died on the same day that the homeless guy died. Self satisfied arrogance and contempt for others led the wealthy man to an uncomfortably hot place where he thirsted for relief. To his surprise he could see the homeless guy enjoying comfort and peace in another place not far off, so he asked that the guy be sent down to bring him a cup of water. It wasn’t to be. The homeless guy was no servant to be ordered about. Loved by God, he was finally getting the rest denied to him in life. The rich man would just have to endure as best he could with plenty of time to think about what it means when God says that loving one another is the most important thing in life. What does loving one another mean to you? Does it have anything to do with how you act toward others? Does it have anything to do with how you treat the homeless, the sick, the hungry? Is there such a thing as the deserving poor, and the undeserving poor? What do you think? I know what Jesus thought. He told the story. What do you think?
A recent piece going around Facebook compares those who receive food stamps to wild animals in national parks where signs warn against feeding them lest they become dependent on handouts. The message is clear, if it wasn’t for handouts, those people would have to work harder to earn more to eat better. If you want to stop dependency, stop feeding them. If someone can’t earn enough to afford adequate food and shelter on minimum wage, they should get a better job. If they lack needed education and skills, well, whose fault is that? Their own of course, or maybe their parents. You can’t breed good out of bad. Good trees and good fruit, bad trees and bad fruit, and all that. It’s in the bible. Dependency of the indolent is what’s ruining this country! Ebenezer Scrooge said it best, “Are there no prisons…, no workhouses?” Workhouses, we used to have them, and county poorhouses too. Why not bring them back? The poor and hungry could be fed and sheltered, and they could work off their debt by raising crops and livestock, and doing odd jobs around town. Dignity in work and all that. Those who refuse the collective largess might die of this or that more readily for it, but whose fault would that be? They had a choice and chose poorly. Painfully tragic as that may seem, it would be through no fault of ours. Indeed, we would suffer the unpleasant cost of carcass disposal. The best we could do for them is to pray for their unregenerate souls. Amen?
More than usual, we are in a time when the airwaves and daily conversation are filled with hard, judgmental, just plain nasty talk about whether our country is in as good a place as it should be. Opinions are all over the place with little concern for truth. If you are among those who claim to be Christian, there are some truths that stand above all others, and they must claim authority greater than any other. You shall love the Lord your God. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang everything else in scripture. You shall love one another as Christ has loved you. That’s the new commandment. Commandments, not suggestions. From God, not from television, radio, the newspaper, or coffee conversation.
So what happened to the rich man in the end? Here’s what I think. When he finally figured it out, and honestly confessed what he now knew to be the truth, he was invited to cross over and join the homeless man as a brother. Not that he finally accepted the poor man as a brother, but that he finally was willing to be accepted by the homeless man as a brother. What do you think?
Post script: I’m fully aware of the cons used by the poor to gain a few bucks, and have heard every one of them. Sometimes the most right thing to do is offer simple friendship and respect