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Summary: There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the

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I don't know how many of you were at this year's annual 'Smith Lecture', but it was a good night - highly stimulating and intellectually challenging - and afterwards Ange and I got into a discussion over dinner where she made the comment that the older she got the more impressed she was at how intelligent the people around her were, to which I responded by saying that I had been coming to the opposite conclusion!

I wasn't thinking of my friends of course (while Ange quite possibly was) but of the vast mass of persons in our society and across the Western world who seem to have been suckered in to believing that most of the problems we face in our communities are really the responsibility of either the Muslims or the gays or some combination of the two.

I notice that on the side of a house in nearby Enmore this week someone has painted a large and confronting 'no' sign, by which I mean one of those large red circles with a stroke through it, like a no-smoking sign, except that in this case, instead of having a cigarette in the circle there's a picture of a woman in an Islamic head-dress. In other words, it's a 'No Muslims' sign, signifying that 'we don't want any of their kind around 'ere'!

And it does make me feel like throwing my hands up in the air. I can appreciate of course that it is in the interests of any number of power-brokers and media magnates for our population to have a minority group to focus their frustrations on (lest we come to the conclusion that it is these power-brokers and media magnates who are really the source of our frustrations) but what I can't understand is why so many people buy in to this garbage. I really had thought that most people were simply too intelligent for that. I was wrong!

Of course though it's not it's not really just an issue of intelligence, is it, for in the end people believe what they want to believe, and it's just far too convenient for most of us to believe that the problems we face are not really our responsibility but that somebody else is to blame - Muslims, gays, gay Muslims, etc.

"All obscurity", Kierkegaard said, "is a dialectical interplay of knowledge and will". In other words, when we don't know the truth, it's partly because we don't know it and partly because we don't want to know it. That's just the way it is, and it's the way it always has been, and when we go back to Jesus' day we find that things were exactly the same then as they are now.

"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores." (Luke 16:19-21)

This has to be one of the most straightforward stories Jesus ever told, though it has never been one of His most popular. It opens with a familiar and yet still confronting scene, where we are introduced to two figures - a poor man named Lazarus and a nameless businessman who might have been his benefactor except that he found he had more important things to attend to.

These two figures are representatives of the extreme ends of the polarised society that Jesus lived in, where a privileged minority enjoyed a life of luxury while countless others struggled to make ends meet.

We too in Australia live in a polarized society of course, where. according to the last figures from the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) the richest fifth of Australian households each have, on average, forty times more wealth than the poorest fifth of the population!

When we look at things on a global scale we see that the disparity is even greater, such that North America, for example, which accounts for just over 5% of the world's population, possesses more than 27% of the world's wealth, and Asia, where more than 50% of the world's population live, accounts for less than 30% of the world's wealth (according to Wikipedia).

Of course, behind these statistics lie countless numbers of homeless and helpless persons like Lazarus - a character who is not unfamiliar to us. There he plants himself, outside the wealthy man's gate, hoping to pick up on some tasty left-overs from the rich man's table when the garbage is taken out each night. His presence spoils somewhat the beautiful symmetry of the well-manicured lawns that encompass the rich man's mansion. His clothes are old and dirty, his speech is slurred, and he reeks of alcohol. We know him well, and he makes us uncomfortable, for we are never quite sure what to do with him!

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