Enron and Lazarus

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared
sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate” (Luke 16:19)

The present Enron scandal expresses the shadow side of capitalism. In this time of our nation’s healing from the disasters of 9/11, we have come together as a nation to demonstrate to others and to ourselves the best in our people. Patriotism has erased any vestige of cynicism from the past. Not since World War II have our priorities and values been so evidently well ordered.

Then the scandal of the Enron Company arose to afflict the land. The ugly head of greed emerged to crash the party. Americans love God—almost as much as they love money. Enron demonstrates that it requires an ability to ignore the needs of all others if one is to succeed in the pursuit of wealth. Jesus Christ put it so succinctly: You cannot serve both God and mammon [money]” (Matthew 6:24). Choose one or the other. What is your ultimate commitment? Greed demands an obsession with grasping at every opportunity to expand one’s wealth, regardless of the cost to one’s priceless soul. The Enron Execs on the top floor didn’t consider the employees below them.

The tale is as old as the first family. When Cain responded to the Lord’s question: “Where is your brother?” with the retort: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he presumed the answer was self-evident. Abel was not his concern, not even after he had killed him. He showed no remorse, not regret, and no second thoughts. His brother meant nothing to him. Too many are like Cain.

We have discovered that it’s not a simple thing to provide an equal distribution of wealth and goods for all members of society. Communism has made that quite clear. By enforcing an equal distribution of wealth, or pretending to, communism created nations of slaves by enforcing labor and rewarding a privileged elite class of citizens. Only pockets of that system linger on the earth as vestiges and examples of its failure: Cuba, North Korea and a few lesser countries. But neither does the American system of government provide “Justice for all,” although it offers more liberty than any other nation.

Love is the answer; however, love cannot be legislated. Love in the form of caring for the welfare of our neighbor is the Christian solution yet to be tried. It’s a matter of the heart. The rich man of Christ’s parable did not hate Lazarus. He didn’t resent his presence on his front porch, nor did he chase him away from his doorstep. He just stepped over him on his way to carrying out the important business of making money. When he was brought to account in the world beyond death, he pleaded that nobody told him that he should have been kinder to Lazarus. Should he have known?

The rich man tried to make God understand. He was a decent guy on earth, just providing for his family. The wife of the CEO of Enron wept on national television, pleading for understanding. They were themselves victims of the fallout, she whined. They were now broke and in debt. It takes a heart to see God’s image in one’s neighbor. It takes heartlessness to choose to do everything in one’s power to make a fortune by exploiting others. And real, human hearts are not those made of paper to be mailed on Valentine’s Day.