THE CHASM

by Metropolitan George (Khodr) of Mount Lebanon

 

The parable of the 'Rich Man and Lazarus' in the Gospel of Luke — Luke's Gospel is considered to be the Gospel of the poor — figuratively describes to us a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen to that of a poor man who's name was Lazarus.

The name Lazarus means "God is my help" — a perfect name for every poor individual, as God alone is the richness of the poor and all other riches are substitutes to God.

Luke always employs this intensity in his Gospel; he started Jesus' greatest sermon with: "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of God."(Luke 6:20) — (Also known as the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew).

For Lazarus, the only means for him to be fed was to eat of the crumbs, which fell from the rich man's table, crumbs that he had to compete for with a pack of dogs. Chronic hunger filled Lazarus days, and from it, sores covered his body. The dogs would come and licked at his sores, literally setting him down food for these injurious and filthy animals, such as they were in the culture of that era. He became the cohabitant of nonexistence.

Upon his death, Lazarus was carried into Abraham's bosom, to the Banquet of the Royal Existence. In contrast to that was the place of torment where the rich man was led to. This latter, overwhelmed in his exile, called upon Abraham and asked him to send Lazarus to relieve him of his pain. The 'Father of all believers' did not respond to his request and severs all dialogue with the rich man by saying: "Between us and you there is a great chasm fixed. So that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor those from there pass to us." This is how it will be in the Last Day. In other words: Rich men have set a great chasm between themselves and the poor of the earth. This chasm is set forever.

He who did not have mercy in his life, how shall he buy it after his death?

For in this world there are two sets of logic: the logic of power and the logic of weakness, or what may appear as weakness to those who are powerful. The rich man is powerful in his belongings, the strong is powerful in his muscles and the beautiful is powerful in his beauty; by what shall the ugly boast?

The educated boasts by his brain and formal education but with what shall the ignorant boast if his parents couldn't afford him a formal education, if the society in which he lived did not give him a needed opportunity or if his intelligence was deemed insufficient to further his formal training?

The knowledgeable also boast. Nothing in this world could ever equitably level those who have knowledge with those who do not. No gathering can ever welcome a rich man in the same manner it welcomes a poor one, and no party can justly compare a beautiful woman and an unattractive one. No nation can bring together the powerful and the weak. No congregation believes that it can benefit from the illiterate in the same manner it can from the educated, although that the illiterate might be more chaste and pure of heart.

Everything is in this manner because everything in our world is employed for production: Money is produced because it sets the standard of progress, but the sweetness of heart is set apart. Who cares for the tenderness of the good? Who is moved by the ugly face that may hide an inner beauty, and for the illiterate that is crowned with wisdom?

Similarly, the chasm between affluent nations and the vulnerable ones is precipitous. Democracy has never been a merchandise for export because it would have then protested and declared its rights and of those in the 'weaker' countries.

If humanity had been just then the devouring of the weak by the strong would have been abolished, and the production of weapons would have being banned; these are the same weapons which are sold (usually by the same supplier) to enemy tribes that are annihilating one another everyday.

Feelings are seemingly never hurt nor is there ever any protest over the death of children — children of the poorest countries — deaths usually due to hunger or shortage of medical supplies. As far as the children of the 'golden' countries are concerned, they are overfed with fatted meat and the goods of life. These 'halloed' children set the supposed standards of beauty and, at first, know nothing about famines and strife simply because they haven't been taught the complete world geography, or been exposed to the world that is outside their own familiar geography. The variance of colors and countries, and therefore cultures and mentalities, may prove troubling to some because many are taught to not allow any complexity to befuddle what is the collective psychology. This is all in order that a 'truth' be created, that an ingrained perception and mentality not be shaken or put into question. Why then should the chasm be abolished?

Everything points out that humanity has lived in this manner and shall, in general, continue to do so until the poor discover the treasures that are imbedded within themselves, that the unattractive have perceived the unseen beauty that comes from their hearts, and that the illiterate are able to love.

Nothing points out that the great deprivation of humanity could transform itself into a meager one but everything proves that the thief will continue to steal, the oppressor will continue to oppress, that the educated and beautiful shall continue to boast of themselves and that the chasm will remain deep.

Is there any great solution, before the last hour upon the sound of the "Last Trumpet" — As St. Paul said?

The boldest voice in this domain, was that of Marx, and Marx wasn't necessarily an ally of violence. But his system was practiced with the employment of prisons, grievously oppressive measures, and persecutions; and it fell. Today a new system has replaced it. This new system, in addition to the 'benefits' of technology and datamation, has been embraced and enslaves a population for the fulfillment of ferocious capitalistic temptations.

Within the frame of this lifestyle minimization, which will strike a resounding chord with those who are of the marginalized or weaker groups, remains the State. The State, if its security was been secured and delivered from corruption, will try its best remold the chasm between the classes in order to be able to sculpt a human face for it. The greater question is then this: How one should forbid exploitation and injustice within a State that has acquired an internal security framework? How can it be transformed into a social project? How will the centers of power cooperate within it, as if the foremost objective be that all the powerful are equal to one another; what have they to fear?

I do not assume that tyrants will accept that their reign will be cut short. There is then no real alternative from not oppressing the oppressors themselves. Who would oversee such a task? How could this mission be accomplished without engendering hostility to the tyrants and without obliterating them in turn? For it is unjust and unacceptable to squash even the tyrannical.

I acknowledge that the State, in its nature and practice, is compelling enough to have achieved the dissemination of their message to the Majority. No doubt, everything good starts with fear, except for those who are chaste.

Yes, we must submit to the State not from fear "but also for conscience sake"(Romans 13:5). Saint Paul continues his teaching by saying: "Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom is due, fear to whom fear is due and honour to whom honour is due." There is a Divine order then to submit ourselves to the State and its institutions, but all within the limits of conscience and with the exception to when it becomes tyrannical and reckless towards its citizens.

Society must accept the compelling aspect of the State for its own good and rehabilitation; this is a Divine commandment but it is merely the first step of a journey. This will not produce a saint's society but the ultimate purpose of the State is for it to become a Church, as Dostoyevsky wished and envisioned it to be. Yes, the law is the tool of the State and in utilizing it — it serves as an opposing force to evil. United, we can put a limit to the consequences of sin. In unity, we acknowledge one another and let all live by the blessings of freedom. This is the human being's right accorded him by his fellow citizens; this is the citizen's rights accorded him from the authorities in order that this authority be humanized and transformed from a tool of domination into being that of a servant of God.

The probably most important achievement that can be reached is to narrow the wide chasm between the rich and the poor. This is the problem of problems. Inasmuch as we narrow this chasm, inasmuch many of the most difficult problems will automatically be resolved. I am sure that if we focus on this particular issue, many other problems will subsequently diminish in importance or disappear altogether. The citizen taking refuge in his own Rite is usually born of a desire to escape his personal fear, weakness and surrounding tyranny. In every Rite, the strong are allied with the strong and the poor are allied with the poor. The weak must unite in order to refuse their tyrants. This vision cannot be killed by the falling of the Marxists. It will happen with or without a new ideology; what matters is that vision of unity. But it cannot be brought about by the State alone. The state is not a savior, although the state's power must be used as a mean's to an end, preparing for salvation.

What is important is to train one's heart to leap across that wide chasm, and to submit to the rule of God come over your being. In your heart, you will make brethren and from your heart you will give forth healing.

The unity of humans is the gift of hope.

Published October 24, 1998 in the © An-Nahar, Lebanese news paper (http://www.annahar.com.lb/) — Translated from Arabic.

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