We Are About Relationships
What is it about humans that we are fascinated with watching other people get into awful or painful situations? My spouse likes watching those funniest home video shows, and when he does, he laughs, and by that I mean belly-laughs, any time someone falls or gets hit in an, uh, how shall I describe it, awkward place. Sports channels will play and replay injuries to athletes to the delight and/or shudder of all who watch. I can’t watch “I Love Lucy” reruns because I feel so uncomfortable every time Lucy and Ethel get into an embarrassing fix. I mean, didn’t they know if they pretended to keep up with the candy machine, it would only run faster? Whether in situation comedies, reality shows, or cable news, we love watching people get into trouble.
This past Sunday, the choir’s anthem did almost the same thing. The scripture passage was a parable of Jesus we know as the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man has everything, and Lazarus, who sits at the gate of the rich man, has nothing. The anthem was a spiritual based on this passage, and with only a few minor details added, it kept pretty true to the story. It was lively, upbeat, and fun to sing. It was in a major key. The words to the anthem should have been about how we all love Jesus and are so happy to be Christians together living in peace and harmony and plenty. Hallelujah! Instead, the repeated refrain was the words of the rich man: “I’m tormented in the flame….” What a happy thought! And the verse about the rich man ended this way: “And when he died, he went straight to hell.” When the choir first sang the anthem, several basses gave a thumbs up on that part. How delightful!
Wow! Imagine being happy and excited that someone is going to hell. Or, I should say someone else. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much of an imagination. In the middle of a heat wave this summer, I saw a church sign that read: “You think it’s hot here?!?” There is actually a term for gleefully speculating the eternal torment waiting for others called the abominable fancy. There is something in us humans, probably on the same gene that compels us to read tabloid headlines in the supermarket, that gives us a strange pleasure when we look at others and find them wanting. Or unfaithful. Or worthy of judgment and eternal torture. Or even boring, unattractive, or unworthy of our time and attention.
I’m so glad that John explained in his sermon that this story was not intended to give us a glimpse of what life after this life looks like. Instead, it causes us to hold up a mirror, to consider whom we tend to overlook, in the same way the rich man never noticed Lazarus; even when he was in hell, the rich man talked over and about Lazarus rather than to him. And we are surrounded by many such opportunities to notice and care for the people around us, people who are hurting, mourning, sick and disabled, wealthy in money and things but not in spirit.
May we who claim to follow Christ delight not in the torments of others but notice the pain they experience. May we sing with joy how God has loved us so well and respond with love to others in their need. And may we laugh and dance and celebrate the love we have received and share with glad and generous hearts.