A recent Oxfam report has shown that 1% of the world’s population own more wealth than the other 99% combined. The report also shows that in the period 2010 to 2015 the poorest 50% of the world’s population saw their incomes drop by 41%, almost halved in a five year period. In the same 5 year period the wealth of 62 of the richest people in the world rose $500 billion to $1.7trillion.
If you needed any proof the scene of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is still with us then the figures tell their own story. There’s still the rich man dressed in fine linen and feasting magnificently, there still the poor man lying at the gate who feeds on the crumbs falling from the master’s table.
We tend to think that to be poor is bad enough, but there is a rank and stage below this which is even worse, it is called being destitute. A recent Oxford University study published in 2014 has shown that in a review of developing states 49 countries can be shown that half their poorest population can be regarded as destitute. Indicators of this level of extreme poverty can be seen in severe malnourishment, early death of 2 or more children through non existent medical care, and families and individuals having no assets at all, no one in the house having completed a year of schooling . The report shows the greatest number of destitute people is SE Asia 420 million; in sub-Saharan Africa 200 million and in Niger an astonishing 68% of the population are classified as destitute.
Destitute people have to deal with severe malnutrition. It was found 40% of people in situations of deprivation have to walk at least 45 minutes for safe water, if even that is available. 80% live with dirt floors. 90% have no sanitation.
Lazarus still lies at the gate. The rich man still feeds sumptously and is careful not to catch the eye of the poor man less questions arise in his mind.
These huge imbalances in wealth cannot be allowed to continue. We need better economic systems which create justice and fairness. The present system creates a situation where the poor and the destitute remains so and where the rich get richer. We would never accept or think it right if a cyclist fixed a race that they always won, or a swimmer fixed it that they always get a couple of seconds of a start on everyone else, or a football team bribed match officials to make sure they won. That is what is happening in the world it is an uneven playing field and the rules are fixed so the poor can never win.
Lazarus is at the gate and the rich man feeds at his table. Lazarus waits for the crumbs to fall from his table.
The parable could have been written yesterday so fresh is its message. But it goes to the heart of the matter. The man moves from course to course, he is eating greedily and is oblivious to the fate of the poor man, sick, ill and hungry at his door. The story is about the corruption which is in the man’s heart, the greed that is there and what greed does. His wealth, instead of making him generous and in a position to help others, does something to him it blinds him, makes him selfish, greedy, makes him petty and lazy. The story is about one person but it is about everyone with money and how it can corrupt.
If you care to look at it the bible has plenty to say about the situation of how rich people deal with the poor. Last Sunday we heard about rich people who couldn’t wait till the festivals were over to sell the poor for the price of shavings or the price of a pair of shoes. For the rich who tamper with scales. This week about the rich who lie on their ivory couches, they eat the best lambs and calves and drink wine by the bowls.
God positions himself on the side of the poor. He doesn’t cosy up to the rich and powerful, he promises to knock them off their thrones and to raise the lowly. He promises justice, fairplay a re-balancing of the order in favour of the poor.
God knows that in every age Lazarus has come to the door of the rich man and gone away hungry. The parable reminds us that God is not pleased as the remainder of the parable tells us. There has to be a day of justice when it is put rights. There has to be a day of justice where things are put right.
Lazarus is at the gate in our own times, hungry, sick and weak, he must not be turned away but must be brought in from the dark and the cold, sat down, clothed and fed and his wounds must be tended.