Just to complete my reflections on the “Dives and Lazarus” parable centralized in last Sunday’s homily, here are my “translations” of the day’s readings. As I said on Sunday, these liturgical selections provide a virtual catechism on liberation theology which I consider the most important theological development of the last 1500 years. Please check out the actual readings here to see if I’ve translated them correctly.
Amos 6:1A, 4-7
The Spirit of Life informs us that:
Complacent “religious” people
Are in for a sad surprise.
They might be enjoying
Their “Sleep Number” mattresses
And Lazy Boy chairs;
While gorging on Wagyu Beef
No one else can afford;
They might be attending
And drinking Chateau Lafite
While reeking of Chanel Grand Extrait.
But the world’s on fire!
And its flames will soon consume
Even the decadent lifestyles
Of the super-rich.
Psalm 146: 7, 8-9, 9-10
For the poor,
There’s a certain Schadenfreude
In all of this.
For God’s future assures
Downfall for the rich
Justice for the oppressed
Rich food for those now hungry
And liberation for the imprisoned.
The obtuse will see,
Will be relieved.
Immigrants and refugees
Will be safe at last.
Children born out of wed-lock
And abandoned women
Will finally know peace.
1 Timothy 6:11-16
So, be of good heart.
That golden future awaits
Those who live like Jesus.
He was so committed
To the poor
To justice, non-violence
Patience and love
That the imperialized world
Could not stand it.
Nevertheless, his powerful
(That you btw have promised
To live by)
Will bring the world
A completely new order
And enlightenment beyond
Our wildest imaginings.
2 Corinthians 8:9
In fact, Jesus accomplished
All of that
By becoming a poor man
Not a rich one
So that we might know
Where true wealth lies
And live accordingly.
Luke 16: 19-31
With the story
(Told to the complacent believers)
Of poor Lazarus
Who often begged
From a rich man.
But soon had Dives
Begging from him
The awful frustration
Of unbridgeable gaps
And in ability
Of hunger and thirst
Even if revealed
By a ghost from the other side.
Readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: AM 6: 1A, 4-7; PS 146: 7-10; I TM 6: 11-16; LK 16: 19-31
This week’s liturgical readings couldn’t be more relevant to the world that’s unfolding before our eyes. It’s a world where one person dies of hunger every four seconds, while over 215,000 individuals worldwide are now worth more than $50 million.
Ours is also a world where 60% of Republicans find themselves wishing that the United States would officially be declared a Christian nation.
But what would happen if people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ron DeSantis got their wish? What if America were truly Christian?
According to today’s readings, it’s not what Republicans think.
If “America” truly became Christian, we’d have to address the issue of hunger on the one hand and extreme wealth on the other. We’d have to deal with the fact (as Richard Wolff argues in the video above) that the tradition in question favors socialism rather than capitalism. We’d be forced to recognize the truth of liberation theology.
Let me show you what I mean by reminding you about liberation theology and then by showing how today’s readings represent a virtual catechism on the movement as the Judeo-Christian tradition’s most authentic interpretation — its enfant terrible so challenging that even popes feared its world changing potential.
Well, you might ask, what is liberation theology?
To answer that question fully, please look at my blog entries under the “liberation theology” button. I’ve written a series on the question. In my blogs, you’ll find that I always define it in a single sentence. Liberation theology is reflection on the following of Christ from the viewpoint of the world’s poor and oppressed. That’s the class of people to which Jesus himself belonged. They constituted the majority of his first followers.
When read from their standpoint, accounts of Jesus’ words and deeds – the entire Bible for that matter – take on depths of meaning and relevance to our contemporary world that are otherwise inaccessible to people like us who live in the heart of the wealthy world.
From the viewpoint of the poor, God passes from being a neutral observer of earth’s injustices to an active participant with the poor as they struggle for justice here on earth. Jesus becomes the personification of that divine commitment to the oppressed. After all, he was poor and oppressed himself. The Roman Empire and its Temple priest collaborators saw to that.
Going back to the Jewish Testament, the Exodus (Yahweh’s liberation of slaves from Egypt) was God’s original and paradigmatic revelation. The whole tradition began there, not in the Garden of Eden.
Moreover, the Jewish prophetic tradition emphasized what we now call “social justice.” Even more, Yeshua of Nazareth appeared in the prophetic tradition, not as a priest or king. Jesus directed his “ministry” to the poor and outcasts. The Gospel of Luke (4: 18-19) has Jesus describing his program in the following words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After his death, Jesus’ followers continued along those lines. They lived communally, having sold all their worldly possessions and distributed the proceeds to the poor.
All of that finds vivid expression in today’s liturgy of the word. As I said, it’s a kind of catechism of liberation theology. The reading from Amos the prophet describes the sin that most offends God – wealth disparity in the face of extreme poverty. Amos decries a “wanton revelry” on the part of the wealthy that sounds like the “American Way of Life” or the “Lives of the Rich and Famous” that we Americans find so fascinating.
The prophet describes a rich class that lives like King David himself – in luxurious houses, overeating, drinking wine by the bowlful, and generally ignoring “the collapse of Joseph,” i.e., the poverty of their country’s most destitute. For that, Amos says, the rich will ultimately suffer. All their wealth will be confiscated, and they will be driven into shameful exile.
In railing against the rich and defending the poor, Amos was calling Judah back to the worship of Yahweh whose attributes are described in today’s responsorial psalm. There God is depicted as loving the just and thwarting the ways of the wicked. The psalm describes Yahweh as securing justice for the oppressed, giving food to the hungry, and setting captives free. He gives sight to the blind and protects resident aliens, single mothers, and their children.
Then today’s excerpt from 1st Timothy outlines the characteristics of those who worship that God by following in Jesus’ footsteps. They keep the commandment which is to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
According to St. Paul, that means pursuing justice and living with devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
Finally, the gospel selection from Luke chapter 16 dramatizes the sinful relationship between rich and poor and the destinies awaiting both. Luke tells the story of the rich man and “St. Lazarus” who is honored by the poor throughout Latin America and especially in Cuba.
It is significant that Lazarus is given a name in Jesus’ parable. Usually, we know the names of the rich, while it is the poor that remain anonymous. Here matters are reversed. To remedy this anomaly, tradition has assigned the wealthy man a name. He’s called “Dives,” which is simply the Latin word for rich man.
For his part, Lazarus is quintessentially poor, hungry, and lacking medical care. His sores are open and the only attention they receive are from dogs that lick his wounds.
Meanwhile, Dives seems completely unaware of Lazarus’ presence, though the beggar is standing at his very doorstep. Within the sight of Lazarus, the wealthy one stuffs himself with food to such a degree that the scraps falling from his table would be enough to nourish the poor beggar. But not even those crumbs are shared. How could Dives share? He doesn’t even know that Lazarus exists.
So, the two men die, and things are evened out. The rich man goes to hell. We’re not told why. Within the limits of the story, it seems simply for the crime of being rich and unconsciously blind to the presence of the poor. For his part, Lazarus goes to the “bosom of Abraham,” the original Hebrew patriarch.
Lazarus is rewarded. Again, we’re not told why. Within the story, it seems simply because he was poor and Yahweh is partial to the poor, just as he was to the slaves God intervened to save when they were starving in Egypt.
Seated with Abraham, Lazarus feasts and feasts at the eternal banquet hungry people imagine heaven to be. Dives however is consumed by flame in the afterlife. Fire, of course, is the traditional symbol of God’s presence, or purification, and of punishment. This seems to suggest that after death, both Dives and Lazarus find themselves in the presence of God. However what Lazarus experiences as joyful, Dives experiences as tormenting.
And why? Simply, it seems because Dives was rich, and Lazarus was poor.
In the “Ask Prof. Wolff” video posted above, Marxist economist, Richard Wolff responds to the question, “What is the relationship between Christianity and capitalism?”
Prof. Wolff answers perceptively (as does liberation theology) that Christianity started out from its Jewish roots as a slave religion. In fact, the Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in the corpus of great western literature for recording the experience, faith, and hopes of oppressed people.
However, even within the tradition itself, it’s easy to detect a struggle between Israel’s royal classes (epitomized in King David) and their poor subjects (defended by the prophets). More often than not, the royals wanted to wrest away from the poor their experience of God as on the side of the oppressed.
Professor Wolff points out that that sort of “battle of gods” continued far beyond biblical times.
And so, the tradition’s God of the oppressed was co-opted by ruling classes under imperial Rome, and under systems of slavery, feudalism, and now capitalism. In this way, the ruling classes turned a liberator of slaves into the oppressor of the poor.
The Christianity that 60% of Republicans favor celebrates such a God. “He” (sic) is concerned abortion, LGBTQ+, and trans issues – none of which are even mentioned in the Bible. He even supports American nationalism, a “prosperity” understanding of salvation, and an accompanying disregard and even hatred of any Lazarus people dying every four seconds at our very doorstep.
Today’s readings expose the wrongheadedness of all that. And In the process, they suggest the power of Yeshua’s own understanding of God. The readings address and propose wealth-sharing remedies for the planetary hunger and wealth disparities that plague a world divided between a starving St. Lazarus at our gates and the super-satiated Dives that we Christians have become.
I lead a charmed life. My life has been governed by what some New Age spiritual teachers call “The Law of Attraction.” Simply put, the Law states that like attracts like. It holds that what consumes one’s thoughts eventually manifests in one’s life.
So, what has consumed my thoughts and attention?
As a theologian, teacher, and world-traveler, they have been focused on understanding the world (and especially spirituality) from the underside – not from the usual viewpoint of the rich and powerful, but as experienced by the world’s colonized, but the poor and oppressed.
And what has that attracted to me?
Almost unbidden, it has brought me extraordinary experiences throughout the former colonial world and Global South. It has attracted extended sojourns in Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and Israel-Palestine. Early on, during my graduate studies and their 5 years in Rome, I also found myself journeying throughout all the home countries of European colonizers in Italy, Great Britain, France, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, and Germany.
At every stop, I’ve had the privilege of working with and engaging in conversation scholars and activists much more informed than me about the ins and outs of colonialism.
All of that has helped me understand colonialism for what it is – a system of robbery. In the form that has shaped the world, it has had white Europeans and their descendants (a very small fraction of the world’s population) roaming the planet and subduing its entirety for purposes of transferring its wealth and resources to the so-called “Mother Countries.” As a result of colonialism, white Europeans and their descendants has prospered; those they’ve colonized have largely been impoverished.
My current stop in this rather automatic Odyssey has brought me to Granada in Spain a country that happens to be governed by a socialist coalition. Coming from a right-wing country like the United States, that’s noteworthy. Whereas, of course, there is not even a Labor Party in the U.S., Spain happens to be run by a left-wing coalition between the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and an even further left anti-austerity party called PODEMOS (“Yes, We Can”).
For decades in this country, such development would have been undreamt of. This because Spain’s left-wing political shift follows hard upon a long period of extreme right-wing rule by the infamous Francisco Franco, who governed the country with an iron fist from 1936 to 1975.
Franco was a Fascist who allied himself with Hitler and Mussolini during World War II.
After the war, his anti-communism secured unwavering support for his regime from the United States which is always more friendly towards fascism than socialism.
To establish and maintain his power wielded on behalf of landowners, industrialists, and the Catholic Church, Franco slaughtered more than 200,000 Spanish workers, trade unionists, teachers, intellectuals, and others who sided with the country’s poor and disenfranchised.
Over the next few months, I want to find out more about that. I also want to get a better idea of what’s really happening here in Europe generally. To that end, I’ll be talking to as many people as I can about these matters.
In the short term, I anticipate that my principal dialog partner will be a language teacher I’ll be employing to help me recover my fluency in Spanish. I’ll keep you posted here.
If anyone’s paying attention, I must offer an apology for such a long gap between postings here. The fact is that for the past 10 days, I’ve been absolutely unable to post anything. The reason? Peggy and I have been in transit from the U.S. to Spain (Grenada), where we’ll be living for at least the next 2 or 3 months. There has also been a serious issue with COVID.
We’ve come to Spain at the invitation of our daughter and son-in-law who are here on a year-long sabbatical. We’re so grateful, since this gives us all that time to be with 5 of our 7 grandchildren.
Getting here was an adventure. For one thing, it involved a 7-night cruise on the Queen Mary 2 (QM2 pictured above). I never imagined my making such a voyage. I guess my face is still red from doing something so luxurious. (How do I square that, for instance, with my professed commitment to liberation theology? Oh well, as Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself.” Sigh.)
I must admit though that the cruise was wonderful for all the reasons you might suspect: non-stop sumptuous meals, people waiting on us hand and foot, top-class floor shows, dancing, music performances of various kinds in the ship’s many pubs, bars, and parlors, and long hours of silent contemplation of divine presence nowhere as clearly evidenced, I think, as in the ocean. (Someone has said, “The ocean doesn’t simply remind us of God. The ocean is God.” In some mysterious way, I think that’s true. We’ve all come from the water. About 60% of our bodies is water, even now.)
And while I can’t claim that all of that wasn’t fun, it also made me think guiltily about white privilege, colonialism, wealth disparities and the fast-approaching end of my own life.
Yes, almost all of the Queen Mary’s passengers were white. And almost all of the waitpersons were not. Most of the latter turned out to be from the Philippines. And their attitude reflected what colonists have always expected from “the white man’s burden”: “We exist to serve you. How can I make you more comfortable, sir? Can I get you anything else?”
Never, I’m sure, did it cross most of our minds that these “servants” had their own ambitions, romances, families, worries, contradictions, rich stories — and hidden resentments about “the master.”
Oblivious to all that, most of us passengers had the means necessary to have such a luxurious experience. Most of us were wealthy and old. At one point, it occurred to me that the QM2 resembled a floating nursing home with many of the voyagers using canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. The fact is that in 10-years time, few from among us will still be alive. So much for wealth, privilege, and colonialism. Then (as now) all that will matter is what that vast ocean embodies.
I got a sharp reminder of such mortal realities just after disembarking from the QM2 last Sunday. I came down with a devastating case of COVID 19.
I know; I know: what did I expect getting on a ship like that? As one of my friends asked long before our departure: “Do you know what your and Peggy’s favorite game must be? It’s probably Russian Roulette. That’s what you’re doing spending 7 nights on a ship during COVID! You’re toying with your lives!”
Well, my friend turned out to be right. And after a very long day of travel on Sunday, the malady kicked in big time. I literally thought I was going to die.
Thanks be to God, I didn’t of course. But before closing my eyes Sunday night, I did mumble to Peggy, “If I don’t make it through the night, honey, know that I love you and it’s been a good run.”
I even thought, “This would be an easy way to slip out, wouldn’t it? — except there’ll be all the difficulty involved in shipping my body back to the States. Too bad.”
My internal monologue continued, “But there’s still so much left for me to do.”
“And what would that be?” I asked myself.
“Nothing,” came my quick and honest reply. Nothing. And that was it. I felt surprisingly ready to go. I felt so tired.
Three days later, I’m still feeling exhausted. But here I am writing. So, I guess I’m out of the woods.