On Being Lazarus

In an earlier post on the Dives and Lazarus story (Rich and Poor and Purity of Heart), I made the point that wealth is not condemned nor is poverty commended as such. There is much more about attitudes than there is about possessions. After all, there is a kind of poverty that has nothing holy about it, just as there is a kind of wealth that has nothing evil about it. It is what we do with either, the way in which we are rich or poor, that counts.

Interestingly, churchgoers tend to take sides, as it were, identifying with the poor but godly Lazarus who, typically of the truly poor, never speaks for himself but is spoken for by Abraham and Dives. It is worth thinking about that for a moment. Dives has a voice; Lazarus doesn’t. Dives’ overwhelming sense of entitlement leads him to ‘explain’ to Abraham how Lazarus can be of service to him and his brothers, but it is Abraham who rebukes him, not Lazarus. Is there something here to ponder?

You will have noticed, I’m sure, how many disputes boil down to have/have not antagonisms and the resultant envy and absurdity that often follows. Having more than another doesn’t confer any special rights on the one who has more, nor does it mean that the one who has less is in any way morally superior to the other, but how often do we confuse the two. We forget about obligations or duty as we rush to assert our rights. We think we are Lazarus while all the time we are behaving like Dives. The noisier we are, the more we convince ourselves we are championing the poor. Maybe. Maybe not. We are certainly falling into the trap of thinking of the poor as people different from ourselves, to whom we do good rather than people exactly like ourselves with whom we share.

Perhaps this Lent we could spend a few minutes thinking about our attitudes to the poor — not to poverty, for that is an abstraction, but to the poor, for they have a human and individual face. If our almsgiving is to mean anything more than giving a little from our excess, it must take account of that fact; but it also means that, in an important sense, we have to become Lazarus ourselves. What might that mean for you and me?

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Two Hairy Brothers: 2

Letter from Bro Dyfrig BFdeB to Bro Duncan PBGV

Howton Grove Priory
Herefordshire
24 September 2016

Dear Cousin Dunc,

I hope this finds you well and cheery and enjoying Beyond as much as ever. BigSis misses you lots, but LttleSis and I have become inseparable so I’m hoping I’ll get through my first perseverance without too much difficulty. Mustn’t be presumptuous, though; I’m trying to be good, which, as you will understand, isn’t always easy.

I would like to ask you about something that has been bothering me: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good dogs and Human Beans? I’ve been thinking about all those little Human Beans in Syria and Yemen and the fact that the big Human Beans don’t seem to care how much they suffer, they just want to go on playing war games with one another. Surely God is involved, but how?

Then, I’ve had two scary experiences of my own recently and I’m not sure where God was. One was when we all set off for Oxford where BigSis was to have a PET scan. That word ‘PET’ confused me and I was a bit shaky but They kept saying I wasn’t involved, so I just had to trust Them. What a mistake! Something happened and BigSis had to stay in hospital, leaving LittleSis and me marooned until that nice Bro Eric came and drove us all the way home. I was allowed to sit with LittleSis, which was nice, but I was a bit car-sick, which was horrid. Fortunately, Bro Eric was very understanding and kind so I didn’t feel too badly about it; but it is very puzzling for a small dog like me.

Then, just the other day, I was taken to a place called a Vettery and a Human Bean put a needle into me and I kept getting sleepier and sleepier and when I woke up I was missing two little teeth and I could hear all sorts of sounds I couldn’t hear before because he had done something to my ears. But now They say I am eating like a horse and am full of energy, so perhaps losing your teeth is a good thing after all?

I am very confused about all this. Can you help?

Love and licks,

Bro Dyfrig

Letter from Bro Duncan PBGV to Bro Dyfrig BFdeB

The Heavenly Houndland
Beyond
25 September 2016

My dear Bro Dyfrig,

It is good to hear from you, young sprog. BigSis tells me you are doing very well and acquiring some very monastic characteristics, but I can understand why you are confused and questioning.

Let’s start with the most important question. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good dogs and Human Beans? It is a question everyone asks in one way or another. Sometimes the answers we get are a bit of a cop-out. You probably haven’t met the kind of Human Bean who goes all twinkly and says, ‘Ah, a great mystery! We just have to bear our Cross, don’t we?’ That’s true in a way, although I don’t think you’ll ever hear Them say it, but it’s positively shocking when you think of all those little Human Beans in Syria and Yemen. They are suffering, plain and simple; and their suffering cries to heaven for vengeance.

Why does God allow it? Does he hope to draw some greater good from it? I doubt it. Does he just say, ‘Human Beans are so perverse, let them get on with it!’? I doubt it. It is a mystery, in the sense that it goes beyond our understanding, but the God I know and love is far from indifferent to the suffering of those little Human Beans. He respects our freedom to choose right or wrong, to play war games or jaw games, but that doesn’t mean he endorses or accepts as right the choices we make. There’s a big difference between the two but Human Beans tend to think God thinks as they think, which is the biggest mistake ever. Today’s gospel is about Dives and Lazarus and you can see that Human Beans can’t evade responsibility for the evil that they do themselves or silently countenance because they can’t be bothered to notice the plight of others any more than we dogs can escape the consequences of eating too much or rolling in fox poo.

As to your other scary experiences, I think you are on to something when you talk about trust. You see, just as we have to trust God when we don’t understand, we have to trust Human Beans, too. It is difficult because every nerve and sinew says, ‘This is wrong. I’m not in control. I don’t know how this will turn out.’ Happily for us, unlike Human Beans, we have no illusions about being in control all the time. We live in the moment, grateful for the good things that come our way, uncomplaining about the bad things. I’m not sure that losing your teeth is a good thing in itself, but I’ve been told that your appetite is much better and you are becoming very good at vacuuming up whatever has fallen on the floor. The monastic term for that is ‘crumb-popping’. Did you know? Sometimes it is better to concentrate on what we can do rather than what we can’t. Be encouraged. I’m sure They will let you persevere.

With love from

Bro Duncan PBGV

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Rich and Poor and Purity of Heart

As we draw closer to the General Election, politicians of every stripe are anxious to be seen as good guys. Unfortunately, that often seems to mean bandying around claims and counter-claims about poverty and wealth which foster division and envy. We do not have to hate the rich in order to be concerned about the poor. We do not have to despise the poor in order to desire a prosperous society. Dives and Lazarus in today’s gospel (Luke 16.19–31) are not to be interpreted in black and white terms. Wealth is not condemned nor is poverty commended as such. Dives is in agony because during his life on earth he failed to be charitable, not because he was rich. Lazarus enjoys bliss because he was patient in adversity and never railed against God, not because he was poor.

Very often at the monastery we are invited to support some good cause or other, and we have learned to be wary. Sometimes the cause isn’t good; sometimes it is presented in a way that makes us uneasy. It is possible to do an ostensibly good deed in a way that leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Bitterness, envy, hatred, jealousy — these are not Christian values but they can be the wellspring of our actions. St Benedict borrows a verse of the psalmist to remind us to be on our guard about our own motives: ‘my every desire is before you,’ he says, and that includes those we prefer not to acknowledge. It would be a useful Lenten exercise to spend a few minutes thinking prayerfully about the things that matter to us and, without becoming tied up in knots about it, scrutinising our own intentions. A pure heart is only attained through constant watchfulness.

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