The season of Lent is one of discipline and discipleship as we focus our attention more intensely on following Jesus into eternal life. It’s a season of letting go so that we might take hold of the life that really is life. For this 4th Sunday of Lent we’re focusing on one of Jesus’ more difficult parables. It is the story of Lazarus, a poor man, who suffered on the doorstep of a nameless rich man who feasted sumptuously and dressed himself in fine linens. Abruptly, both men die.
What strikes me is that we don’t know much about either man. We don’t know why Lazarus is poor. Has he made poor choices? Is he the victim of unfortunate circumstances? And, we don’t know what he has tried to do, if anything, to alleviate his own suffering. Likewise, we don’t know how the rich man became rich. Did he inherit this wealth or work hard? Was it the result of cruelty and oppression or ingenuity and invention? All we know is that the poor man was carried away to the comfort of Abraham’s side and the rich man sent to be tormented in Hades.
The only clues we have into the rich man’s character come from his callousness toward Lazarus; even the dogs show the poor man more concern. The rich man also expects Lazarus to come tend to him in his suffering; still expecting the hierarchy of rich over poor to serve his comfort. Even in death the poor man was still viewed as a subordinate. Abraham is having none of it, not bowing to the rich man’s wishes, as he stands with Lazarus.
The Western world enjoys immense wealth at the expense of much of the rest of humanity. It’s tempting to imagine that those who are rich are not to blame for their wealth, that it’s God’s blessing. It is equally tempting to justify generational poverty with accusations of poor choices or poor character, the poor are to blame. Jesus’s parable is having none of it. There seems to be an inherent obligation on the rich to address the suffering of the poor regardless of fault or reason.
Part of decolonizing Christian theology and practice is moving on from this same callous disregard to solidarity. This is not an easy move to make because solidarity doesn’t fall into the usual categories of the colonized mind. For example, solidarity is not generosity. As Paolo Freire writes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “an unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity’…true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform” the present situation.
Neither is solidarity friendship. As Chanequa Walker-Barnes writes in I Bring the Voices of My People, “In friendship, people run toward one another. In solidarity, people run together toward a greater objective…Practical solidarity means that we do not simply feel compassion and empathy for others, but commit ourselves to be in the struggle for justice with them. We do not simply suffer with people; we also struggle alongside of them.”
For some “solidarity” is too political a word. For others “accompaniment” might be a better fit. For others still “communion” might feel most at home. Regardless of what you call it, the season of Lent calls us down a road that challenges comfort and callousness and calls us to discipline and struggle alongside others who are suffering for the sake of our mutual flourishing. For some of us, there is no reason to answer that call except one: someone has risen from the dead.
The one Abraham was speaking of is Jesus. One who was willing to lower himself and take on the form of a servant, becoming obedient to the point of death, bringing salvation to all the world without question or reservation. It was the greatest act of solidarity the world has ever known. As a result, God raised him up and gave him the name that is above every name. To bend the knee before the Lord is to stand with Lazarus as he sits at our gates, to fight at his side, and to commit ourselves in the struggle for justice with him wherever he exists today.
St. Croix Reformed Church
US Virgin Islands
Peter is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry at Claremont School of Theology and exploring what it might mean to decolonize Reformed theology and practice.