Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Monday Night Lazarus

Monday night is streets night, which means we go down with sandwiches and chocolate milk, do a Bible story, pray, play. This week, we invited a friend of ours, a lady who has become a sisterly figure to me, to come join us and see what it is we do. It was a wild night, as they always seem to be when anyone visits. A.L. was upset because we haven't taken her to get all her documents yet. Two of the boys were fighting and throwing things at each other. A tiny kid with a six-year old body and giant, hobbit feet put a styrofoam box over his head and began beating a syncopated and erratic rhythm on it, ignoring all our offers of food...Chinesa was wearing a huge wrap on her foot, tangled up in blankets, with a plastic shopping bag of rice and beans lying near her head. She was crying because a car had run over her foot the day before and she'd not been able to get any of the hospitals to treat her because the public health system is a near-failure and most of the hospitals are lacking not only basic resources, but actual DOCTORS. Her foot is clearly broken, so I gave her 800 mgs of ibuprofen. Talk about medical care. We had a really great evening together--sang songs, talked about how we'd start reading lessons, and read the stories of the widow's mite and Lazarus. I'd come across the Lazarus story in another book the other day and it had stuck in my mind. This isn't the back-from-the-dead Lazarus but the beggar Lazarus we're referring to...and the unique part of this story is exactly that the beggar has a name. Chinesa and I thought on that a little. How many times do we read in the paper that so-and-so was robbed by a punk, a street kid, a "bandito" from the favelas? They are always nameless, always faceless, the poor. A beggar dies in the street and no one comes to recognize the body. He gets buried under a numbered cross in a hideous graveyard far from the bustle of the city. And so Lazarus is part of this group. He's a nobody, so badly off that dogs actually do a better job of caring for him than any human. But Jesus gives him a name. Not the rich man. He's not important. He's important in the world. He's probably well-known, a respected leader in the business community, known for his acts of charity. After all, he did believe in the trickle-down economic model and let Lazarus eat the crumbs that fell from his table. Enough crumbs and maybe Lazarus could have bagged and sold them as crunchy topping/stuffing mix...and eventually made a fortune. But he's not industrious enough, eats the bread crumbs, and eventually dies. The rich man too...and when we get our privileged look at heaven, it is interesting to see how differently God's version of importance compares to ours.

Chinesa got a kick out of it.

And then we moved on to the widow's mite. (To be fair, I think we started here, but I'm too lazy to cut and paste so that the story flows in consecutive order. Not that anyone would have known had I not just written imagine that this never happened...)

I love the widow's mite. "Mite" invokes an instant itchiness. She probably did have fleas or some other contagious infestation, and it's not impossible that the coins were dropped into the urn with a few extra jumping proteins. I like the image of this isty little grandmother/widow shuffling her way up to the offering plate and putting her two cents in, even as the men holding it recoil from her touch, her clothes, her smell.

Being that I told the story to a Brazilian, I tried to add local flavor to the non-essential parts. A nearly worthless coin down here would be the one centavo piece, which is the size of a small piece of play money, a delicate bronze colored disk that looks like it would make a better decorative pendant than a valid coin. Centavos are so worthless that people throw them away when they receive them with their change. I've only been to one store that ever gave me change when I paid R$5 for an item that cost R$4.99. You can't use them to pay for anything, or at least, nothing useful. And most every beggar I've seen leaves them lying where they fell. It's worthless. I'd like to think that it was this kind of coin that the widow put in...a coin that she found on the road and decided to give back to God.

How many times do I find something God's given me and grab it greedily without even stoppiing to ask if the gift was meant to stop in my hands or to go on to bless someone else? That's what I see this widow doing. She was certainly in the right socio-economic bracket to receieve the assistance that the church gave...the reason FOR the offering in the first place. She should have been taking out of the offering plate, not putting in. But instead of looking at the situation from the lens of a victim, she chose a different route. Honoring God as well as she could, she offers what she has: two little coins she found while walking around the city begging for bread. And she gives them to God and He's thrilled with her...

i wish I had her courage.

I'm not usually faith-full enough to trust God with "all I have to live on."

And that's all I'm saying tonight because my eyes are shutting...

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