We live in a time when our neighbors are in a crisis of poverty and violence– a crisis that is beyond what most Americans could ever imagine experiencing.
The American Evangelical Pope, Donald J. Trump, continues to argue that the solution is to build a nice big wall to keep our poor neighbors from wandering into our neighborhood. Until then, he’s altering the laws to make it more and more impossible for those fleeing persecution to seek safety here in our country. For those who arrive here and ask for help despite the barriers, the ever infallible Evangelical Pope has ensured the hospitality and compassion they are met with includes stealing their children and placing them all in concentration camps.
So, what would Jesus have to say about all this?
Well, funny thing: Jesus actually told his followers a story about a rich man who had a nice big wall to keep the beggars out– it’s commonly known as the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
Found in Luke 16, the story Jesus told goes something like this (BLC paraphrase version):
“There once was a rich man who lived in absolute luxury every day of his life. He had nice clothes, loved him some good food, and he lived in a home with a big ass wall around it.
Just outside that wall was a poor man named Lazarus. He spent his days sitting outside the rich man’s gate, and was so sick and hungry that he would fantasize about being able to eat whatever scraps of food the rich man would throw away– all the while dogs would come along and lick his sores. The rich man didn’t give two shits about Lazarus.
But plot twist! One day both the rich man and Lazarus die, and boy oh boy, do the tables turn…
The rich man finds himself tormented in the flames of Hades, and can see Lazarus in a wonderful paradise off in the distance just chilling out with Abraham and some others. He yells over to them, “Yo– can you guys please send Lazarus over to give me a drop of water? Cause this place totally sucketh beyond all that hath ever sucked before.”
Abraham answers him back and says, “Well, in life you had good things, and now you’re being tormented, while Lazarus got jack squat and is now being comforted. Besides, I’d really love to help you out bro, but as irony would have it, there’s a big ass barrier between us, I guess similar to that nice big wall you had around your house…” (Lk 16:19-31)
Ahh, interesting how the stories told by Jesus can be so timeless, no?
What I find particularly powerful about this story is that Jesus doesn’t try to spiritualize it the way some Christians do. Growing up I was always taught that the rich man didn’t believe in God and wasn’t saved, but the poor beggar did believe in God and therefore was “saved.” The only relevancy of the rich vs poor distinction was explained as being a lesson on how being rich can’t buy you a ticket to heaven.
But that’s not the story Jesus tells. This isn’t a story about “who asked Jesus into their heart” and who didn’t.
There’s no footnote or metaphor going on here that would allow one to ignore the central premise of the entire story– consequences await for those who ignore or mistreat the poor and needy on the other side of that wall.
So, what would Jesus say if he were here today and were to speak out on building giant border walls and shutting out the poor and needy who, like Lazarus, would probably water at the mouth at just the thought of eating the scraps of food we toss in the garbage?
Well, if my conservative brothers and sisters are right when they say that “God’s word never changes” and that he is “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” I’d point them to a story Jesus told…
One that begins with, “There once was a rich man who had a nice big wall around his house. Outside of it there was a poor man who was hungry and who hoped to receive mercy from the rich man behind the wall…” and that concludes with Jesus basically saying, “And watch me one-up Alanis Morissette with this irony: When the rich man died he was sent to be tortured in the flames of hell, where he had to stare at a big ass wall that was keeping him out of paradise.”
Because those who support and enable Trump with his walls and concentration camps are going to get *real* familiar with that story when judgement comes.