On Sunday, Sep. 26, many Christian churches around the world heard the story of the rich man and Lazarus from the gospel of Luke 16:19-31. As I reflected on this story, I was reminded once again of our Christian responsibility to heal the world of all divisions. The rich man in this story is not condemned because he is wealthy, nor is he condemned because of what he did with his wealth. He is condemned because of what he did not do. He is condemned because he did not spend his time, talents and treasures to bridge the gap between Lazarus and himself. The chasm that existed between the rich man and Lazarus is symbolic of the different chasms we have created and maintained in our society.
What are those chasms and who are the Lazaruses? There are several divisions that exist in our society: the rich and the poor, those who dine sumptuously and those who go hungry, gay and straight, whites and people of color, Christians and other religions like Islam. Our Lazaruses are the marginalized or those who are disadvantaged because of the side of the divide where they find themselves. In our society, these are the poor, the hungry, gays, people of color, and Muslims. These are the least of our brothers and sisters that Jesus Christ expects Christians to care for. We cannot ignore them, deride them or pretend that they do not exist. Christians not only have a responsibility to help them, but they must fight to tear down the structures of inequality in our society. Christians cannot sit passively when the rights of Muslims are being violated just because they belong to a different religious tradition. They must act because we all have a common origin. The same God created Muslims and Christians (and people of other faiths). I was not created by a black God or a white God. The God who created gay people is not different from the God who created straight people. The poor are also created by the same God who creates the rich. We all are created by one God. We all share the image and the likeness of one God.
When Christians fail to address these inequalities or when they promote these inequalities no matter their religious reasons, they are widening the gulf in our society, thereby casting themselves on the wrong side, the side of the rich man in the scriptures. Most of the people carrying placards, marching against Islam and against help for the poor of our society are Christians. When Christians deny Muslims the right to build a mosque for their worship, they are denying them a fundamental right to choose to worship God in their own way. God did not give each one of us free will by accident. We can choose to worship him or not. The freedom to worship God, our Christian God or a non-Christian God, is a fundamental Christian teaching. As Christians, we believe that people would make the choice to serve our God, but we cannot force them to make that choice, nor should we deny them the resources that would enable them to make that choice.
Jesus Christ was a healer and not a divider. He was tolerant toward the Samaritans whom his people did not agree with. On his journey to Jerusalem, he did not only extend a hand of friendship to the Samaritans; he rebuked James and John when they tried to call down fire to consume them because they were not hospitable to Jesus. Christians must work to bridge the divisions that exist in our society. It is in doing so that we can become like Jesus: healers and not dividers.
Read more about what we are doing to heal the world of divisions at www.racialdialogue.com.