Luke 16: 19-31
Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ the man said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“Abraham said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Will you pray with and for me? Holy One, open our eyes to your presence with us, in us, in our friends and family and neighbours. Open our hearts to recognize their pain, their grief, their needs. Open our hands to share with them. Amen.
As most of you know, I work two days a week at our sister church, MCC Detroit, over in Ferndale, Mi. Being the end of summer, there is still some construction and road work going on, so I generally take a less direct route to MCCD. There is one particular intersection where I often see people holding cardboard signs saying things like"Homeless Please help" or "Veteran in need." I've noticed that many people, when the red light stops them beside this person, stare straight ahead, obviously pretending not to see the person, trying to avoid eye contact with the person. Because, of course, if they made eye contact, then they would feel obligated to give the person some money or a bottle of water--they would be forced to acknowledge them--to see them. I wonder whether instead of seeing the man with the cardboard sign, perhaps they are seeing their own vulnerability to a job loss, or the family member who periodically lives on the streets, or maybe it is their own fears--for personal safety, for their possessions--however unrealistic those fears are. They do not see him.
I imagine the rich man in this parable doing exactly the same thing--walking swiftly by Lazarus on his way in and out of his luxurious home, looking the other way, pretending to be absorbed in a fleck of lint on his sleeve until he has walked past Lazarus, suddenly involved in vigorous conversation with a friend...not seeing him, not making eye contact. Not wanting to get involved. Not seeing Lazarus. He sees instead an embarrassment,a hindrance, an obstacle.
Do you see yourself as Lazarus or as the wealthy man in this parable? Because there are two sides to this story, you know.This parable is powerful because we have all been on both sides of this story. I know I have been like those drivers sometimes, thinking as I stare straight ahead, "I am struggling financially too, I don't have any extra to give you," when, after all, I am driving a car, I have income, and thanks to living in Canada, I have health care.
But then there is Lazarus. Sometimes I have felt like Lazarus, too. Have you felt like Lazarus sometimes? Like no one really saw you?
When I was in treatment for breast cancer, I was surprised by the reactions of friends. My family was there for me--frequent phone calls, coming to chemotherapy with me, staying with me, cleaning my house, sending care packages.
Some friends were fantastic--driving me to chemo and taking me to supper afterwards, shovelling my sidewalk, sitting with me through one or another procedure, bringing me books and magazines, sharing in my Sinead O'Connor party, when Dani Bobb shaved my head for me, sending encouraging emails and texts and Facebook posts, playing endless games of Scrabble with me... One friend designated herself my Friday night cook, and called me every Friday afternoon around three, to see what I felt like eating for supper, and that was what she brought me--pasta salad, Chinese, fried chicken. She didn't stay long, just brought the food and a hug and then was off. One night when I had had a very rough day, I said I wasn't hungry and didn't feel like eating anything. She brought me sushi, which turned out to be perfect. My clergy and Deacon friends all took a Sunday and preached for me while I was taking chemotherapy, in most cases doubling their work load for that Sunday.
And you know what was best about all that wonderful care and support? No one did it so they could brag or to feel good about themselves, they did it because they cared, because they wanted to support me, to be there for me when I needed help. They saw me--my needs, whether it was for a nutritious and filling meal, help with the house, or simply encouragement.
There were others, though, who could not, did not, see me. They had reasons, I am sure--some of them may have lost a relative to cancer, or were survivors themselves and it just hit too close to home for them, they were uncomfortable around illness, or were unsettled by the sight of my bald head, or I couldn't do the things together we used to do, and it turned out that those things were what we had had for friendship. Others I think were not as good friends as I had thought they were.
But whatever the reasons, they could not see me. They saw, perhaps, the cancer, or their own fears, or my changed appearance, or a loved one who had struggled with cancer. They did not see me.
So the wealthy man can give, and perhaps does,we don't know. But this much is certain--he does not see the one who needs him at his very doorstep. How many of us are willing to help with a donation or a cheque but don't want to get involved? A friend of mine from seminary was appointed to a large city church, in the wealthy part of town. She became very involved in a project of the larger church, setting up summer day camps in the downtown area of Baltimore. The congregation she served was very enthusiastic, bringing in boxes of supplies and writing large cheques--until she asked them to come down with her, to donate time and themselves instead of money. The support was still there, but they didn't want to be involved, they didn't want to see the ones they were helping, they couldn't, didn't, see them. They were willing to give their wealth, but not themselves.
We are all busy. That goes without saying. But can't we find time in our busy lives to see the people around us, especially the people who need our help? Do we sometimes figuratively step over people, stare straight ahead at a stoplight, pretend we don't see them? Some of those people we don't see may be in our family, our neighbourhood, at work, even our church.
When we don't take the time to see the people around us, we miss God's presence in our lives. As each of us is made in God's image, each person we see adds to that image of God. When we do not see someone, we are not seeing God.
It may be our fears, it may be our own self-doubt--but something may be keeping us from seeing our brothers and sisters in their need. And it keeps them from seeing us.
Here's a challenge for you. For the next week, every day see, really see, one person who needs you to recognize the presence of God in them; recognize that presence and then give to them as you are able and according to their need--understanding, a loonie, forgiveness, a bag of groceries, encouragement. Your friend, your neighbour, a family member, a stranger...See them, really see them.
In all God's names, amen.