Forgiving debt—for Social Justice Sunday
1 Timothy 6.6-19
I mentioned the term ubuntu some weeks ago. I’d like to remind you of it again. Remember, it’s an African word meaning ‘the essence of being human’. Ubuntu means that we need other human beings just to be human. The Zulu and Shona people of southern Africa say: ‘a person is a person through other persons’—not apart from them. Ubuntu means that for us to do well, we need others to do well.
Desmond Tutu says (God has a Dream, chapter 2):
A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.
Tutu also says that in southern Africa, when they wish to speak well of someone they say, ‘So-and-so has ubuntu.’ So-and-so is a person who recognises others as persons. I want to suggest that this African approach to life is one that we could learn from.
The rich man in the ‘Pearly Gates-type’ story that Jesus retold did not have ubuntu. He didn’t recognise Lazarus as a person. Lazarus ‘longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table’. But Lazarus went hungry.
Do you notice something about this story? About who is named and who isn’t? In most stories, the rich and powerful are named and the ordinary people are anonymous. It’s the other way here. Jesus names the poor man. The other—the powerful man—is just ‘a rich man’. In fact, the ‘rich man’ is every person who has enough of the world’s goods—shelter, food, health care, education—yet who closes his or her heart to the poor. The rich man’s name could very easily be ‘Paul Walton’. Continue reading