Monday, November 7, 2011

The Lazarus at Your Gate

Scot McKnight, professor of religious studies at North Park University in Chicago and author of The Jesus Creed, spoke during this morning's convocation program as part of the Faith Seeking Understanding lecture series. An expert on the New Testament, early Christianity and the historical Jesus, Dr. McKnight focused his talk on the divergent perspectives on afterlife held by various Christians. His aim was to recast the debate, shifting its focus to the teachings of Jesus in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31).

It is easy, McKnight pointed out, to view this parable as a preview of heaven and hell, touching on many of the questions alive in the debate today. When we view it in such a light, we imagine ourselves happily in paradise with Lazarus and Abraham. "We assume that we are the poor people," McKnight observes. But a closer look at the parable reveals that--more than any clear depiction of the afterlife--the story is an admonition of those privileged citizens in society who neglect those on the margins, at the gates. And in terms of privilege in the global society, "we're the rich man," McKnight stated candidly.

Dr. McKnight shifted away from the immediate concern over various opinions on the afterlife, explaining that this parable "is not designed to ask, 'What's your view on hell?' Instead, it reminds us of our accountability in our response to the Lazaruses in our world."

"Who is the Lazarus at your gate?" became the refrain of McKnight's lecture. Our love, as Christians, must "cross the distance" into marginalized communities in our own regions—not just around the world, but in Boston, on the North Shore, in Wenham. Otherwise, we succumb to the same unchecked, apathetic privilege of the rich man whom Jesus warns in this parable.

Photo: Dr. Scot McKnight speaking in Friday's convocation.

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