In my first year of marriage, I had this conversation with my wife maybe 1,783,537 times:
Me: Honey, my love – look, I cleaned up after myself (spoken proudly).
Wife: Darling, really. Really?!
Me: What do you mean? I wiped this down and washed this and put these things away.
Wife: Yes, and yet, dust bunnies remain there and streaks over here and look under here, untouched by your cleaning.
Me: I, literally, didn’t see any of that.
(Okay, maybe I embellished the sweet talk a bit, but you get the idea.)
I don’t think it was that I was bad at cleaning (maybe), it was just that I didn’t notice any of those unfinished tasks. I didn’t see the dirt and dust. It wasn’t a matter of effort or desire, but of vision. I didn’t clean what I couldn’t see.
Honestly, I think after college and guy apartment living, I had trained myself to ignore the dirt in the corners. I learned, through repetition, that as long as you got the big stuff, everything was good to go. I practiced seeing the big stuff and ignoring the little stuff.
I think the same thing happens in the gospel this weekend. Jesus tells a story of a rich man (who traditionally is named Dives) and the poor beggar Lazarus who sat just outside the rich man’s door. I think it wasn’t that Dives was an evil man, but he practiced ignoring Lazarus for years. Day after day, Dives would leave his home and ignore Lazarus to the point that he didn’t even see him any more.
What’s the result of years of ignoring Lazarus? Dives experiences the eternal, fiery, torments of hell. In a plot twist, Dives sees Lazarus and Abraham far off. Dives asks if Lazarus will do for him exactly what he didn’t do for Lazarus – show him mercy.
I can’t speak for you, but I think I have trained myself to ignore the poor.
Like Dives, I’ve learned to look away from every Lazarus I encounter. Most of the time when we stop at the top of an off ramp, I purposefully ignore the people asking for a handout. When we encounter someone on the street downtown, I rarely even acknowledge they are a human being in need of help. I’m happy to write a check or attend a fundraiser, but I don’t know the truly destitute who are my neighbors.
How about you?
I think for me this story is a challenge to see with new eyes. Jesus is asking us to unlearn all that we have taught ourselves. Particularly, he is inviting us to really see the poor and vulnerable. Jesus is challenging us to stop ignoring those around us who are in real need.
How important is it that we see the poor and vulnerable? Jesus suggests our eternal future depends on it.
Look for and see the humanity of the poor and vulnerable. That may mean looking into the eyes and greeting someone asking you for money at an offramp or downtown. It may mean reading the stories of the poor. It may mean simplifying your life so others can simply live.