by Jennifer DiFrancesco
We dare to imagine a world where hunger has no chance to show its face.
We dare to dream of a world where war and terror are afraid to leave their mark.
We long to believe in a world of hope unchained and lives unfettered.
We dare to share in the creation of a world where your people break free.
Dare we open our minds to difference?
Dare we open our lives to change?
Your kingdom come, O God.
Your will be done.
~Prayer from the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, U.K
Scripture: Luke 16:19-31 (CEB)
“There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.
“The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’
“The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”
This parable is jammed packed with little ah-ha moments with a few zinger lines thrown at the hearers. Like many of the stories and parables found in Luke, Jesus continues to turn expectations upside down for the hearers. This story isn’t any different.
As you reread the story, remember some of the assumptions held by first century Judeans.
-If you had money, you were thought to be blessed by God.
-If you had an ailment/disease or were of a lowly state, it was usually asked, “What sin did this person commit?” It was thought that you were cursed for a reason.
You can imagine the shock on the first century Judean faces when it isn’t the rich man seated at the place of honor next to Abraham, but poor Lazarus. A whole reversal of what is and should be by their first century standards.
the poor being lifted up and carried by angels
the poor being named and “seen”
So, the question I want answered is this, Why isn’t the rich man placed next to Abraham in a seat of honor? Some might say, the rich man’s problem is that he didn’t “share” what he had with Lazarus who sat outside his gate/door each day. I think the problem is bigger than just not sharing. The problem is in the rich man’s inability to “see” the other.
In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor discusses the spiritual practice of encountering the other. This practice, she insists, will helps us grow closer to God, become more appreciative of God’s human creation, and heighten our ability to love.
First, she says, pay attention to people who are usually invisible or go unnoticed to/by you. I don’t know who that person is for you.
It could be the person standing on the corner asking for food or a couple of dollars,
the custodian at school,
the shelf stocker at the local grocery store,
The next time you see them, meet their eyes and greet them sincerely. This is your time to remember that he/she is someone’s son/daughter, mother/father, a moment to acknowledge that they too are created in the imago dei (image of God).
Secondly, she says, practice hospitality. The Greek word for hospitality for is philoxenia—Love the stranger. There are 36 references in the First Testament that refer to loving the stranger. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self—to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it.”
This second part is what I find the hardest. It is the remembering that the other is a gift to us, not the other way around. In my privileged lifestyle, when I set out to help others, it is quite easy for me to slip into savior mode. I give what I have, on my terms, wherever I decide. I get to be the savior or not be the savior; it is all up to me. So while I could be “doing the good and right thing” my mindset and reasoning is still skewed. This is why I can’t say or believe that even if the rich man gave away all of his possessions, he still wouldn’t be next to Abraham.
To see the other means realizing the other isn’t someone to be saved, but is a fellow child of God. As Desmund Tutu so beautifully said, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” To “see” and encounter another means being drawn out of ourselves and the narrow worlds we have created. Like the rich man, we choose every day those we want to see. What difference would it make if we chose to see, really see, those in front of us who we usually pass by?
Questions to Spark Conversation
-Have you ever felt unnoticed or not seen, like Lazarus in this story?
~Lazarus, meaning “God is my help,” is the only one named in the story. How does it make you feel when someone calls you by name?
-This story is also about the possibility of crossing barriers. Which cultural barriers are the hardest for you and your family to cross?
Pay attention. Notice the people who usual go unnoticed to you during the day. At the end of the day, take a moment to remember the people you encountered. How did you feel when you made eye contact with them? Did you have the opportunity to learn their name or anything about them? Take a moment to ask God to bless each person you met this day.