“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered in sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table…” (Luke 16:19-21)
Every generation has its ‘Lazarus’: the poor, mistreated, abused, and neglected. Part of this generation’s Lazarus is the third world migrants who wash up on the shores of Europe. Their governments oppress them, abuse them, imprison them, torture them; so those that can escape head for the rich man’s gate known as Europe.
When they wash up on the shore after unspeakable tragedy at sea, some of them head for western France to Calais and the literal gate to the rich man’s land known as the Eurotunnel.
A diaspora of refugees with families shattered and scattered across the globe, children in one country, fathers in another, mothers in another. It was never meant to be like this.
They redefine the word poor – they have smartphones, Nike trainers, mp3 players and navigate at sea using Google Maps. But only because we, in the rich man’s kingdom, are so driven by our mad consumer desire for the latest ‘thing’, we throw last year’s stuff away. But don’t be fooled by this – the real poverty is the loss of loved ones, of being stateless, homeless, jobless and friendless. The sores on the modern Lazarus are underneath his skin, too deep to be seen by the superficial glance of the citizens of the rich man’s country.
At Calais in the sand dune jungle they gather, a mass of humanity with the hopes, dreams and longings that every man has: the desire for home, peace, and a job. These are valid and righteous desires and all they really want is to be fed from what has fallen from the rich man’s table.
So we donated some clothes and toiletries and drove into the camp. We made friends, prayed for some, sat with them and listened to their hopes and fears.We saw some of them at the point of tears. The jungle is a friendly place and we felt at home there.
Years of homelessness leaves them feeling worthless, so we brought a generator and some hair clippers and set up an impromptu barbers shop. They charged their smartphones, cut their hair and felt normal again for a few hours.
But winter is coming – the fence that blocks the tunnel has grown in size and it’s getting harder to cross. In desperation they throw themselves onto the trains, at fences and into lorries. Their despair grows as they are pulled off again and again by the authorities. There are many there with broken bones from being thrown off lorries, scars and torn clothes from barbed wire. In the camp, a boy saw the GB licence plate on our car and looked at it longingly, almost in tears. So near, and yet so far.
But these are God’s sons whether they know it or not. His children, the blessed poor, the lame, the hungry, the dispossessed. God’s sons, beggars at the gate, the modern Lazarus.
The ‘State’, the official mouthpiece of The Rich Man, doesn’t know what to do, indeed cannot know what to do, because sacrifice (apart from for self-preservation) is an unknown concept. It would take sacrifice on a massive scale for Europe to absorb the waves of Lazarus’s washed up on its shores every day. While the god of this world rules, self-interest reigns supreme and the only answer will be bigger walls and more barbed wire.
The warning to The Rich Man in James 5 is one of the most brutal pronouncements of judgement in the Bible that I know.
“…You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” (James 5:3-6)
This is a difficult scripture to accept, yet we must accept it, and let it trouble us until it reaches a practical application in our lives. When one half of the world has a better standard of living than the other, our responsibility in the kingdom of God is to seek to redress that balance in every way we can. The kingdom of God must practice social justice, simplicity and radical generosity. As Gandhi said, we must “live simply so that others may simply live”. If we fail to do this, then the cries of the harvesters will reach the ears of the Lord of hosts.
Back to Calais. If Psalm 34:18 is true, the Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Is it true? If the Lord is near to the broken hearted, then His people need to be too.