One thing I’ve learned living in New York City is that rich people really want you to remember their names.
Carnegie Hall. The Chrysler Building. The Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (If the name doesn’t ring a bell, those are the pharma barons who’ve been profiting off the opioid epidemic.) Rockefeller Plaza. Did you know that John D. Rockefeller is considered the richest human who ever lived? His net worth in 2019 dollars would be in the ballpark of $400 billion. Nearly four times that of Jeff Bezos.
And by God, he doesn’t want you to forget it.
But in Jesus’ parable, it isn’t the rich man’s name we remember, it’s his cold-heartedness. Not his generous philanthropy that sticks in our minds, only his overweening sense of entitlement.
But Lazarus? His name we remember. The only named character in Jesus’ parables, as a matter of fact. The beggar whose sores the dogs licked. The powerless one, if you measure power by wealth. He’s the one whose name is immortalized.
I wonder what New York City would be like if the buildings were named after the workers who actually raised them up? Or the indigenous peoples whose lands were stolen to extract the natural resources needed to build and finance them?
Jesus would want us to remember their names, too.
I’m not saying that rich folks like Misters Rockefeller and Bezos will be consigned forever to the pit of otherworldly damnation. I am saying, though, that their avarice, and the capitalist system that incentivizes and rewards such avarice, have created hell on earth for way too many Lazaruses.
After all, John D. Rockefeller was an oil baron. And it’s on account of the Rockefellers of this world that 14-year-old Ashinaabe activist Autumn Peltier, and 16-year-old Somali-American activist Isra Hirsi, and 16-year-old Norwegian activist Greta Thunberg, and 18-year-old indigenous Amazonian activist Artemisa Xakriabá get to spend their adolescence combating climate catastrophe rather than being teenagers.
Let’s remember their names, too. The powerless ones, if you measure power by wealth.
Those brave young women, four among thousands, who are begging—nay, demanding—that world leaders do what the rich man in the parable should have been doing all along: working for the good of his neighbor. His neighbor, a man with a face, and a name, and a life every bit as worthy of being protected, and respected, and engraved on a monument in Midtown Manhattan.
Because God isn’t in the revenge business – S/he’s in the freedom business. The justice business. S/he’s not looking to damn enemies, but to turn the tables and set the captives free. S/he’s looking to obliterate the distinction between rich and poor, capitalist and worker, colonizer and colonized, saved and damned. God doesn’t desire the same old power structure in reverse. S/he desires an entirely new order, where every living being is fed, and loved, and called by name.
“We brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7)
We can’t take it with us…
…so why in hell wouldn’t we share it while we’re here?