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How Do We Overcome the Distance?

by The Rev Beth Knowlton on September 21, 2022

“Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”
 —Luke 16:19-31 
 
This well-known story of the rich man and Lazarus is meant to throw us off balance, as all good parables do. We see a story where the rich man has no name, and the person most on the margins is named. It is the only time in the parables of Luke where a name is given. Why is that? I suspect it is because the poor are so often depersonalized. Even calling them “the poor” lumps them all into one category, deprived of their own particularity and personal story. Once the rich man sees Lazarus, it is not a smooth transition. Instead of seeing someone of worth in the bosom of Abraham, the rich man is curious how Lazarus might be of use to him. Abraham responds by describing a chasm that cannot be overcome in the next life.
 
So that brings us to the difficult question of how we overcome that chasm in this world. How can we change our own gaze so that we are able to encounter the suffering of the world, without being overcome by it? Richness is not only about physical possessions, but anything that creates that distance between us and those who are suffering or invisible to us. It would be comforting to find out that the rich man in this parable is a scoundrel or guilty of some horrible moral offense. But there is no indication that this is the case. So we are left with the uncomfortable insight that something else is creating the chasm.
 
Are we possessed by being too busy? Are we possessed by anxiety that causes us to turn inward and not see the needs of others? Are the circles we move in so impenetrable that we never encounter people who are different than we are? If we believe that in our baptism we are called to respect the dignity of every human being, that cannot only be an abstract concept. It must be lived out in the discomfort of encountering people who are different and learning their names. It means we have to use our resources generously, and not be consumed with a mindset of scarcity that renders us closed to others. These are not easily overcome. 
 
For myself, attending to my rule of life assists me in holding myself accountable. It includes a simple statement about simplicity. When I first started reading it, I thought it was mainly about downsizing. Now I hear it a bit differently. See how this might invite you into a broader gaze to offer to your life.
 
“Acknowledging God as Giver and Sustainer of life
We will order our lives in simplicity,
Relying on God’s providence.
 
We will seek daily to unclutter our lives by letting go of
Things, concerns, and habits that divide our hearts
And keep us from Simplicity itself.
 
We will content ourselves with that place and provision
God grants and call to mind each day
The plight of the poor and the needs of the world’s peoples.
 
We will order our day so that we will have time—
Time for God
Time for people,
Time for ourselves,
Observing a rhythm of work and leisure.” 
—from the Green Bough Rule of Life

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