Recent cuts in federal funding to support the poor are a cause for concern, especially since God’s care and compassion of the poor is a major emphasis in the Old and New Testament Scriptures. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is a good reminder of the chasms that continue to exist between us and those who are less fortunate and the indifference that still plagues us.
The parable ends with both the rich man and Lazarus dying. Lazarus went to be with Father Abraham, while the rich man went to Hades, a hot place. Across the chasm, the rich man could see both of them and cried out for mercy, wanting relief from his “agony in these flames.”
The very rich are not the only people implicated. Those of us with some means also are alerted to become more aware of those in need at “our gates” and the “nation’s gates.” To be clear, this is not meant to condemn wealth, but to implore us to rethink how we use wealth. Could the “In God We Trust” inscribed on our money be used to faithfully witness to God, in whom we truly trust?
Many of our poor die early for need of food and proper medical care, yet Scriptures remind us that God has not forgotten them in life nor in death, implicit in Luke’s account that: “The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham” (v. 22).
This parable is meant to motivate us to not be indifferent to the moral crisis that exists with the poor in our midst. Filmmakers remind us of the dilemma in documentaries like “Every Three Seconds.” Even Pope Francis has tweeted similar reminders: “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.” Local faith communities have reached out to help the poor among us in diverse ways. And collectively, we can all do more.
To lend support to ongoing community efforts, the Faith UCC congregation has launched a Project Serve initiative to assess unmet needs in our community. This initiative will explore the question: “How does God want us to reach out and serve the needs of our community?” Once a month for eight months, through Easter, the congregation will focus on a different community need, listening to invited guest speakers from local organizations involved in serving that need. The congregation will journal insights from these sessions to prayerfully discern what they can do to better serve community needs.
As we become more responsive to the hopes and needs of others, may we be reminded of God’s offer of grace and love in Jesus Christ, the one who took on our humanity and experienced our needs to show us God’s profound love for each and all of us.
Monica Dawkins-Smith is pastor at Faith United Church of Christ in State College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org