Namaste – Luke 16:19-31
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'
He said, "Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, "No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
This is the Sanskrit word in Hindu culture used to signify a greeting of respect.
Namaste literally means “I bow to the divine in you.” And so, as you say namaste you push your hands together with fingers pointed to the sky and slightly bow at the waist.
If you’ve encountered this expression it was probably from an encounter with a colleague of Hindu descent; or it had something to do with yoga, as instructors often begin and end with this greeting and bow as a sign of respect and thankfulness.
Namaste is a recognition that there is something in the person whom you are greeting that is worthy of respect and honor. For Hindus, it is a recognition that the divine is within the other person, just as the divine is inside you. It is a claim of acknowledgement, respect, and a shared spirituality.
I’m curious if there is a word in Sanskrit that communicates the opposite – the idea that another person is not worthy of respect – a statement that God must obviously have abandoned that person because there is no trace of the divine in him or her.
That word might exist, and if it does I probably shouldn’t say it in church. But I doubt there is a word to describe the opposite of namaste…because I think the best way to un-namaste someone is to simply ignore him or her. Pay no attention, act as if the other person’s existence is completely meaningless and inconsequential. Act like you have so little in common with the other person that there is no reason to acknowledge their existence.
Not long ago I came across a theory regarding what happens to us psychologically when someone fails to acknowledge us. This theory posits that the reason being ignored bothers us so much is because deep down our greatest fear is that life is meaningless, arbitrary, and inconsequential. When someone fails to acknowledge our existence, they legitimize this primal fear.
Being ignored makes us feel like we are dead. Not dead and living eternally in joyful heaven or tormenting hell; but rather, dead as in just not existing – what our first testament Hebrew scriptures refer to as Sheol – the place of the dead where God is not in relationship with us. It is a place of nothingness because the Creator God is not there.
Our brains equate being ignored with not existing. Namaste, on the other hand, is acknowledging that not only does someone exist, but their life has value because the presence of the divine is within them. The heartfelt acknowledgement of another makes us feel like we’ll live forever.
Today’s scripture is a powerful story about failing to recognize the divine in one’s neighbor. It is a story about the eternal consequences of failing to acknowledge and value another person’s life.
There are very few facts offered about the rich man and the poor man in today’s gospel story. Essentially, one person has too much wealth; the other doesn’t have enough. And despite having the means to help the poor man at his gate, the rich man does not help him.
We can imagine what the rich man thinks every time he looks out and sees the man covered in sores lying by his gate:
- “Why doesn’t that bum get a job?”
- “I can’t help someone who can’t help himself”
- “I have bills to pay, I can’t afford to just give my money away”
- “God must be punishing this guy for doing something wrong – he must have got what he deserved”
Or, worse, maybe the rich man looked out his window and never even saw Lazarus. Maybe Lazarus’ broken body simply blended into the dirt. Maybe Lazarus was so weak and powerless that he couldn’t draw attention to himself each time the rich man walked past. If that’s true, this parable just went from troubling to terrifying – terrifying because it makes me wonder how many times each day I pass by or step over people who are in need of something I could provide if I only stopped to take notice.
One of the great dangers of wealth is that it can so easily be used as a cocoon. Some people have so much money that we can afford to ignore the painful truths of poverty in the world. Others are so tempted by the lure of wealth that we put blinders on, ignoring (even vilifying) anyone or anything that would divert us from our primary objective of earning more and more for ourselves in our pursuit of comfort and ease.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffet has a perspective about wealth that raises a similar point: He has said,
"I want to give my kids enough so that they could feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing."
The parable seems to be saying that doing nothing simply isn’t an option for a follower of Christ. If we cannot acknowledge, much less act compassionately toward the poor and neglected then we have lost something that is deeply and genuinely human.
In time, the wealth that has alienated us from our neighbors deludes us into imagining that we ourselves have no need, that we are self-sufficient, and can easily substitute hard work and a little luck for grace and mercy. At that point, we are, indeed, lost and separated from the divine spark within us.
But, fortunately, the reverse is also true – as we become more generous and responsive to the pain and needs of others we become more acutely aware of our own humanity, of our own longings and insufficiency. Only then can we truly appreciate the grace of Jesus Christ – the one who took on our need, our humanity, our lot and our life, all in order to show us God's profound love for each and every one of us. If we cannot recognize the divine in others, we cannot recognize the divine in ourselves.
As your pastor, I want you to be so motivated by today’s scripture that you would leave Cross of Grace this morning and start to see the people that have previously been hidden from you; but I realize the this is impossible unless you first recognize that God dwells within you.
So, here are a couple suggestions to make this happen:
Start by thinking about someone in your life who has seen you and truly known you – someone who understands that God is present in you and has treated you accordingly. Picture this person in your mind. Recall how, specifically, this person treated you. What did he or she say to you to make you feel affirmed? Meditate on these memories.
Next, move from meditation to action. Write this person a letter, thanking them for what they have done to make you feel honored and important.
And finally, I want you to practice the expression of namaste. Stand in front of a mirror and look at yourself. Push your palms together with fingers pointed to the sky, bend slightly at the waist, and say, “I bow to the divine in you.” (Feel free to laugh uncomfortably when doing this. I do believe laughter is one of the primary ways that God takes a hold of our hearts).
This practice might just open your eyes to the presence of various people and needs in and around your life. Only then can you authentically bear the presence of a loving God to the people whom might otherwise blend into the background of your life.
Amen and namaste.