Learning to notice what we do not seePentecost
Last week, I told a story that I want to tell again. Walking to the copy room, I saw a familiar face at the Courtney St. door. He waved and I waved back and I went to the door. When I opened the door, I saw him touch the side of the building and he said, “I am not looking to come in today. Touching the building is like touching my base that helps me begin my day and gives me strength. That’s all I wanted. Just to touch the building and now I feel grounded.”
That simple interaction caused me to realize that I, too, need to be here to gain strength from the meaning and purposes that we share. I’d had several conversations with this gentleman in the past and while I had heard some of his story before, I am sad to confess that I still do not know his name. The connection I had with him last week was significant. It brought home to me that previously I have only seen him but failed to really notice the personal lives we share.
You may have heard of a contemporary phenomena known as the Prosperity Gospel. It is the same belief that Jesus confronted in today’s story. The Pharisees believed that those who obeyed God were blessed with material rewards. Poverty, sickness and even death were the result of sin. This distinction allowed the rich to enjoy their wealth without guilt and to walk past beggars without even a sympathetic glance. After all, it was the poor whom the Pharisees thought caused their own suffering. If they’d just get a job and take charge of their own lives. The wealthy ignored verses such as Deuteronomy 15:11, “ Those who oppress the poor insult their maker, but those who are kind to the needy honour him.”
Jesus begins his story of an unnamed rich man and poor Lazarus who lays at his door begging to be fed. The rich man is elegantly dressed while the poor man Lazarus is dressed in sores. The rich man feasts while Lazarus struggles to be satisfied with the scraps from the rich man’s table. In his comfortable life, the rich man didn’t believe the poor beggar deserved his attention.
Then, Lazarus dies and is carried away by angels. The rich man also dies and is buried. In the afterlife, their fortunes are reversed. The rich man, now in torment, saw Lazarus safe and secure with Father Abraham. The rich man begged for Abraham to have Lazarus fetch water for him. This time it is Father Abraham who mentions the chasm, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’
But the rich man persists. “Send him to my father’s house for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Even beyond the grave, the rich man does not recognize Lazarus as a fellow human being. To the rich man, Lazarus remains a mere go-fer, someone to fetch water and take messages. The rich man’s days of getting others to do his bidding are over. Father Abraham explains that there will be no messages from beyond the grave for his brothers because they have Moses and the prophets.
This IS a story about chasms that exist between us both naturally and by choice. It calls us to pay attention to those who we tend not to see. The rich man’s opportunity is past, but what about for us?
The best thing about this story is that it is not over yet. We are the five brothers because we have a chance to learn to notice, to pay attention to what we now only see at a glance. It is too easy to live in a safe, guarded lives that keep us uninvolved, so that we would not need to notice. We have an opportunity to embrace a new awareness that will change our lives and has the possibility of changing the lives of those around us.
The Psalm of the day offers reassurance that God sees us in the circumstances that plague us. While the Psalmist refers to those circumstances as the “snare of the fowler, the deadly pestilence, the terror of the night, the arrow that flies by day, the pestilence that stalks in darkness or the destruction that wastes at noonday.” In light of desperate and dangerous circumstances, God sees us, loves us, will deliver us, will protect and answer us, will rescue us and is with us in our desperation.
Ultimately, this is a story which gets to the heart of who it is we notice in life.The practice of paying attention is as simple as looking twice at people and things you might just as easily ignore. Attention is one way into a different way of life, full of treasure for those who are willing to pay attention to exactly where you are.How might we learn to be intentional in paying attention to those who are right in front of us?