See

September 25, 2016

Bible Text: Luke 16:19-31 |

As you may have heard, the Roman Catholic Church recently made Mother Teresa a saint.  She is perhaps the most well-known to us of contemporary saints.  Her work with the poor of Calcutta is often held up as the epitome of what service looks like—what it means to see Christ in those who have nothing.

 

In 1950 She formed the Missionaries of Charity and by the time she died in 1997, the mission had over 4,000 sisters and an associated brotherhood of 300 members operating 610 missions in 123 countries.  Included are hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children’s and family counseling programs, personal helpers, orphanages and schools.[1]

 

People from all over the world flocked to her missions to work alongside with her, to bear witness to her love for the poor.  She was revered by world leaders and was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Mother Teresa is not, however, without her critics; some condemn the way she managed her missions and the money given; others decry her convicted stance on abortion and divorce.

 

And, she suffered from her own completely human crisis of faith --In papers found after her death, she writes, “"Where is my Faith—even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness—My God—how painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith—I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart—& make me suffer untold agony."

 

Did she always align her beliefs and her convictions with those prized by western culture?  No.  Did she lose her temper and have moments of pettiness?  Almost certainly.

 

Her sainthood wasn’t bestowed because she was flawless, nor was she canonized because she never had an iota of doubt—she did, many times.

 

But Mother Teresa is renowned because she noticed those around her, and then did something to help them.  Yes, the mission grew—probably beyond anything she could have imagined at the beginning.  But at the start, she did the simplest of things.  She paid attention.  She offered dignity to the unclean of the streets.  She fed them, and cleaned them, and provided a safe place for them to die.

 

I have no doubt that had it been possible, Mother Teresa would have found Lazarus begging outside the gates of the rich man.  She would have brought him home, cleaned and bandaged his sores; she would have given him some soup and bread until his system could handle more, and slowly she would have coaxed him back to health.  And, she would have prayed for him and prayed with him the whole time.

 

Mother Teresa would have noticed Lazarus.

 

That’s actually one of the most disturbing things about today’s gospel story—the rich man never even sees Lazarus.  Not really.  He lives behind a gate and never pays a bit of attention to the poor, wreck of a human being begging him for a scrap of food.  It’s only when he dies that the rich man notices Lazarus and even then, he doesn’t speak to him directly.  Instead, he asks father Abraham to send Lazarus down to offer him a bit of relief.  For the rich man, Lazarus remains less than human.  Even as Lazarus lounges on the bosom of Abraham, for the rich man, he remains something to be used—a flunky who might lessen the rich man’s torment.

 

And, in light of this story, I can’t help but wonder whom we refuse to see?

 

Last year, when the youth group began its manna bag ministry, I threw a couple manna bags in my car so I would be prepared to give them away.

 

As you probably know, I live in Silverdale.  Unlike Gig Harbor, there are no laws against folks asking for help on exit ramps in Silverdale, and there is a couple who can regularly be found on the exit off-ramp from Waaga Way onto Ridgetop where I live.  They are there consistently if not always.  They sit on a box facing the folks coming from Bremerton and they have sign.  I’m not even sure what the sign says, because I seldom take that exit ramp anymore.  And, when I am going to and returning from Gig Harbor, they are on the ‘wrong’ side of the road for me to conveniently give them a manna bag.

 

I notice them, but I don’t see them.  Not really.  I’ve never looked in their eyes, nor had a conversation with them.  There is another ‘regular’ on the road in front of Best Buy—she sits on her stool and holds her sign, and I have never given her a manna bag either.  You see, I’d have to stop my car in traffic and somehow get it to her on the other side of the vehicle.

 

These people in Silverdale have become part of the landscape—I can depend on encountering them the same way I expect to see the bank on the corner, or the Panera Bread sign.

 

Except, they are people.  And, unlike the ‘ non=sentient landscape’ interacting with them could potentially affect me.

 

Making contact, having a conversation, would certainly inconvenience my routine; worse yet, it would bring me face to face with the plight of my neighbor—and once I’m actually aware of their hardships, I will feel uncomfortable—and maybe a little culpable somehow.  I will probably feel powerless, and ashamed at all I have.  I might feel burdened, and overwhelmed at my perceived inability to help.

 

This is actually the best-case scenario.

 

The worst-case is that I won’t believe what I’m seeing.  I’ll decide that it’s all a scam, that they have a home, or this is just a way to support their drug habit; Or that they are choosing this lifestyle, or they are lazy and worthless, and just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  And just like that, I will dismiss them entirely, having come up with plenty of justifications for my refusal to notice them—much less help them.

 

And so, with these, my familiar neighbors, I find myself stuck in the middle.  Plagued by guilt when I don’t act, and yet feeling justified all the same.  Overwhelmed by the immensity of poverty, and yet anxious that I might choose poorly and end up enabling someone’s downfall.

 

And this in between existence—this inability, or unwillingness to act --takes a toll on those of us who experience its reality.  We want to do the right thing, we know we’re called to love our neighbor, but how do we know when to act?  What do we do?

 

Maybe the first step, maybe the beginning of action, is to simply see them.

 

When we are able to see one another the same way God sees us, as a beloved child, then our hearts are softened, our compassion triggered, and we can let our judgmental egos take a rest; and speaking for myself, my ego can use a vacation.  It’s exhausting, after all, to be ever on guard, continually assessing who is worthy and who is not; constantly on alert lest someone tries to take advantage.

 

In God’s dream, Lazarus and the rich man are not separated by a great chasm after death any more than they are separated in life.  In God’s vision, we care for one another; we have compassion for one another because we are able to see the other with the same love and joy with which God sees us.

 

God loves us all—equally.  The one in the gated community isn’t loved a bit more than the one panhandling with the cardboard sign.  The one dumpster diving for food isn’t loved any more than the one who shares her frustration at his presence.  But how we reflect God’s love in the world around us can make a huge difference in our communities and in our souls.  You see, Generosity begets generosity—whether of kindness, mercy, finances, or spirit.

 

And God knows, we can all use more kindness and mercy.

 

Practice generosity this week.  Ask God to help you see as God sees and be generous when beholding his children.  They, like you, are precious in his sight.

[1] Retrieved from the World Wide Web on September 14, 2016 at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Teresa

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