CommunityMy FDL

Tell Me Again About the Eye of the Needle

Watching the news unfold of the “deal” that President Obama defended today in his press conference was unnerving. There was something in listening to Obama’s attempts to justify his capitulation to the GOP that sounded painfully familiar. “I had no choice on extending the tax cuts for the wealthy for two years and giving away billions by a reduction in the estate tax. I had to give billions to the all of wealthiest for two years in order to get unemployment insurance extended for one year for some of the poor. I had no choice, I tell you.”

Where had I heard this before?

Then it came back to me . . .

A storyteller of old was beset by a group of the proud Powers That Be in his capitol city, all of them lovers of money and self-righteous in their views of themselves. These Very Serious People had heard the storyteller expounding to his lowbrow friends on the topic of faithfulness, namely that you cannot both serve God and hoard wealth at the same time. “It’s one or the other,” said the storyteller, and the Powers That Be laughed.

The storyteller paused, turned to face the laughter, and politely challenged them. “What is prized by human beings — the piling up of stuff, the collecting of trinkets, the amassing of great piles of this and that — is about as far as you can get from what God prizes.”

Then he told the crowd that had gathered a story.  . . .

Once upon a time, there was a rich man who lived in a nice gated community, with gold-trimmed plates on his table, with gold-plated flatware sitting on linen tablecloths woven with gold threads for trim. He had a fine private chef, who served only the finest meats from the best markets, and the freshest vegetables from the best farmers. Every day he and his friends dined on the most elaborate culinary creations.

Outside the gates was a poor man named Lazarus, who was sick and covered with sores. He watched the procession of groceries go into the house every day and the procession of half-eaten scraps go out of the house every night. “If only I could eat the scraps,” he thought, his mouth watering, as the neighborhood dogs came and tried to lick at his sores.

Poor Lazarus died, and went to heaven, surrounded by the singing of angels and joining Father Abraham, the patriarch.

The rich man died as well, and . . . didn’t. His destination was a place of pain and torment.

Imagine that. Death claims us all — rich or poor, homeless or housed in a mansion. Not something the Very Serious People, those top-of-the-heap Powers That Be, like to contemplate.

And the storyteller went on.

The rich man in his agony could see Lazarus, far away, and longed to be with him. He called out to Abraham “Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip his finger in some cool water and touch my tongue.”

Imagine that. Even in death, even in agony, he’s still trying to call for servants to tend to his needs. Even now, he still thinks the world revolves around him. The Powers That Be began to get nervous. This was starting to hit rather close to home.

And the storyteller went on.

Abraham replied, “Not gonna happen, old friend. You chose your way of life, to surround yourself with riches and wealth, ignoring the rest of the world, so let those things bring you comfort now. Lazarus, for his part, suffered for years at your gates, and now he is being comforted with what he was denied. Besides, there is a great chasm between us, that none can pass. Sorry.”

Imagine that. When you’ve placed all your trust in your wealth and possessions, it’s gotta hurt when you realize that they are not the salvation you thought they were. “If I only amass enough, then I’ll be fine. But how much is enough? . . .” Sorry, says the storyteller. If you are determined to head down that road, there’s never going to be enough.

And the storyteller went on.

The rich man then thought of his descendants. “Father Abraham, if it’s too late for me, then send Lazarus to my family. Let him talk to my descendants, to warn them, so they do not end up like me.”

The rich man may be dead, but he’s still acting as he always did. He’s still trying to snap his fingers and have someone do what he wants, to deal with what he feels is most important. It’s still all about him.

Imagine that.

And the storyteller went on.

Abraham said “But they’ve had warnings. They’ve had the teaching of folks like Moses and the prophets for centuries. Surely your descendants can listen to them.”

Now the Powers That Be really started to squirm. They knew Moses. They knew the prophets. “Do not covet . . . do not bear false witness . . . do not steal . . . care for the widows and orphans . . . give alms . . . treat the foreigners in your midst with dignity and justice . . . do not charge interest in lending . . . act justly in business dealings . . . do not lead lives of prosperous ease at the expense of the poor and those on the margins . . .” They knew these teachings — that’s what made them the Powers That Be — and now that’s what made them look for a way to leave before the storyteller finished.

But the storyteller went on, and twisted the knife one last time.

One last time, the rich man spoke to Abraham. “No, they can’t — or they won’t. But if you send Lazarus back from the dead, I’m sure they’ll change their ways.”

Abraham sighed. “If you’re still trying to send Lazarus running around, taking orders from you — and *you* can see most vividly where you’re at — how can you seriously believe that your descendants would be convinced to follow Moses and the prophets by someone who rises from the dead? You’re where you’re at, and you *still* can’t change your ways. What makes you think a visit from someone who rises from the dead will make any impact on your descendants?”

And the storyteller turned back to his friends, leaving the no-longer-so-proud Powers That Be to stew in their own juices.

Billions for billionaires while millions of 99’ers sit at the gates?

Let the Very Serious People inside the Beltway who have ears, hear.


story h/t to Luke, chapter 16

photo h/t to Pete Souza, the official White House photographer. Let me call your attention to the notice on the White House flickr page:

This official White House photograph is being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way or used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Just so we’re clear: I am not suggesting that the President, the First Family, or the White House approves of this post. Indeed, I suspect it may irritate them.

Which is kind of the reason I wrote it.

Previous post

Late Night: Sarah Palin Says Stay Fat, America, and Free!

Next post

Congratulations, Governor Dayton!



I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.