Each person here has gifts and unique qualities that make them valuable. Each one of us has been created by God in love, and therefore have special characteristics that reveal the image of God.
Biblically, that is all revealed through one’s name. Our character, our values, the essence of who we are, are all depicted in a person’ name.
If you know someone’s name, you know something significant about them. If you know their name, they can no longer be devalued as just one more part of some generalized group that can then easily be dismissed or disregarded. You can ignore, hate, or blame a general group of people who have no names: welfare recipients, illegal immigrants, Muslims, liberals, conservatives, homosexuals, blacks, the poor, the rich, the elderly, the youth, the clergy, the laity, labor, management. “Well, you know that ‘they’ are like”—whoever “they” are.
But when you know someone’s name, when you know who they are, it’s amazing how they no longer fit into a simple category: “Maria is different—she’s not like the rest of them.” When you know someone’s name, they become a real-life human being with real life joys and sorrows, celebrations and pain, gifts and failings. They become valued people that god loves enough to die for.
This is the only parable where a character is given a name; and it’s the poor man who is named. Lazarus. “God helps.” When you hear this parable you suddenly come face to face with the poor, the unworthy, those unfortunates God refused to bless. This man has a name, Lazarus, and the chasm between us and them suddenly disappears.
The rich man being rich isn’t the problem. Lazarus being poor isn’t the problem. It’s the chasm between them that separates them is the problem. The major difference between the rich man and Lazarus is that the rich man can take care of himself and provide for himself. He needs no one. Lazarus is unable to do so. He needs help. He has no means of feeding himself; he doesn’t even have the strength to shoo away the dogs that come licking his sores. The rich man can. Lazarus can’t. That’s the huge chasm between them.
It’s funny, but while they live on this earth, that chasm is merely the gate at the edge of the rich man’s property. Lazarus longs to bridge that chasm at the gate but he cannot. The rich man is able to bridge the chasm but is too absorbed in his daily feasting to even notice.
It seems to me that both Lazarus and the rich man need that chasm bridged. One way or another, now or later, neither one can truly be happy, neither can be truly whole unless the separation between them is removed. In the parable, Lazarus suffers now and the rich man suffers later. But both are suffering as a result of the great divide between them. When there is a chasm, a separation, somebody on one side or the other is suffering. Sooner or later, those on both sides of the chasm suffer. The chasm between us, the separations that keep us apart, have to be bridged for the sake of all of us.
Sometimes, the divide can only be bridged from one side.
~~The rich man, who had all he needed and could take care of himself, is the only one who can cross over his gat to Lazarus. But he didn’t.
~~God, who has all righteousness and holiness, is the only one who can cross over to us. And in Jesus he does.
~~And we, who’ve been given all things, who’ve received forgiveness, who generally have more than we need, are the ones who can cross over to those separated from us.
The poor, the undocumented, the gay, the homeless, the non-Christians, the picked-on, all who feel separated from mainstream society suffer. And those who fit in and have what they need can never be whole unless they bridge the chasm that separates them from those others. Unless the suffering stops. Those we are separated from are precious, valuable. They have names. For their sake, for our sake, bridge the chasm that separates us. Reach across the gate. Find one person you are separated from—by economics, by race, by national status, by sexual identity, by religion, by politics, by disagreement. Reach out, reach across, know their name. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.
It is what God does for us. It is who we are in Christ. It is what will end our suffering. It is what will make us whole.