Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore

“No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood. … Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”

Words spoken not today but nearly fifty years ago by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr during  this talk at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on March 31, 1968.  In this day and age of soundbites and tweets, it might be a challenge to read in entirety but I hope you have the opportunity to do so.  I chanced upon it while researching Dives and Lazarus.  I was curious about the parable that inspired one of my favorite pieces of music.

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus by Ralph Vaughn Williams I play to help me unlock a part of my brain when I am stuck on a writing project.  The music moved me long before I truly understood the story at its core.  A friend explained the story of the rich man, Dives, and the poor man, Lazarus, a parable appearing in the Gospel of Luke.  He recently summed it up as a story of inequality and early trickle down economics.

The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus by Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1625

The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus by Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1625

I was curious who else may have used or been inspired by such a perspective of that parable.  Thus, I found Dr. King’s talk from 1968.  During the talk, of Dives and Lazarus he wrote:

“… Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor. … Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, “Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.”

There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. …  Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. …”

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Fyodor Bronnikov

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Fyodor Bronnikov

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, throughout the talk there is a sad timelessness to King’s words about racism, injustice, economic inequality, and silence.  But there is also a beautiful timelessness about the power and potential of people to make a difference. Near the end of his talk, he says:

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.  In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect.  … We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. … We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.”


 Sources/Additional Reading

Rich Man and Lazarus

Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution by Martin Luther King Jr, 1968

More on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 1968

More about Ralph Vaughn Williams and his composition

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus on Youtube


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Boston Public Garden Street Light

Boston Public Garden Street Light

When I first read Lin Nulman’s haiku, I told her that her words made me want to paint, to capture the vivid impressions she conveyed of Boston.  I have yet to pick up a brush but I did think of her words when I rediscovered this photograph.  Her work appears in this week’s issue of Spare Change News, the longest continuously running street paper in the U.S.  Over 100 vendors, many of whom are currently or formerly homeless, purchase the papers from a distribution office for .25 and sell them on the streets of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville for $1.00.  If you’re in the neighborhood consider purchasing a copy, or making an online donation.  The writing is excellent and the stories not often told.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Lin’s words below.


Sights of the City Haiku

Boston winter night—

streetlight caught in the glass rim

of a sun-catcher.


Dark birds float to a

bare tree. Underneath pages

of newspaper blow.


A young man reads poems

by Lorca on the train, lips

moving, body still.


Sky of milk and slate—

the sails below are whiter,

the river bluer.


Vs of geese fly east

across a violet sky, haze

above the wet earth.


My pages ruffle,

and the willow grows pale leaves.

They also ruffle.


T-shirt heat. Black-haired

boy’s block-print tattoo fills his

forearm: FORGIVEN.


Early autumn day.

Bronze beads pepper a bench from

a broken earring.


Blue sidewalk. Lights of

table candles tremble their

small constellation.


Lin A. Nulman is an Adjunct Professor of English at Bunker Hill Community College.  Her poetry has appeared in Black Water Review, Tanka Splendor, and the anthology Regrets Only: Contemporary Poets on the Theme of Regret, among others.

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