Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Quote from E. J. Dionne, with a comment about the Rich Man and Lazarus parable

It seems that E. J. Dionne (in his Washington Post column today) is familiar with a few parables, such as the Good Samaritan, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Great Banquet (although he may not be in full agreement with parts of the Sermon on the Mount): 
I am not naive, and I am not a pacifist. But I’d ask a small favor . . . : Please stop saying how Christian you are unless you show at least a few signs of understanding the social obligations the word imposes.
As I wrote over ten years ago at the end of an article about the Rich Man and Lazarus (“‘At His Gate Lay a Poor Man’: A Dialogic Reading of Luke 16:19–31,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 32:3 (2005) 249–265):

Lazarus lived and died at the rich man's gate and was caught in the exploitative, hierarchical system of the Roman imperial world; the redistribution system from the non-elites to the elites remains in place. Yet the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, although incorporating elements of that hierarchical system, actually provides a devastating critique: Those higher standards proclaimed by Jesus serve as criteria by which all social systems should be evaluated. 

These higher standards include vertical generalized reciprocity, the redistribution from the advantaged to the disadvantaged that expects nothing in return (e.g., Luke 11; 14). They include loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you, and praying for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28). They include turning the other cheek, giving to everyone who begs from you, and being merciful just as God is merciful (Luke 6:29-30, 36). They include not only calling Jesus "Lord, Lord," but also doing what he taught (6:46). These higher standards also include reaching out to people across boundaries of class, ethnicity, gender, culture, sexual orientation, or any other boundaries that human beings erect between themselves. And, finally, they include reaching out to people like Lazarus, who are victims not only of disease, hunger, and poverty, but who also are victims of oppressive systems. The teachings of the Lukan Jesus, these higher standards, lead readers to the realization that although Lazarus ends up in the "bosom of Abraham," he was still caught in a system of oppression. The Lazarus of this parable does not utter a word, but let us give him and others like him a chance to speak. Let us hear his voice, cross those gated boundaries, and see his true plight, as well as the voices and the plights of the other people on the margins, for the Lukan Jesus proclaimed release to such captives, good news for the poor, and announced that the oppressed should go free. 

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