It seems to me that in the story before us now, the sin of the rich man begins here: He did not see Lazarus. Or at least he did not see him as more than an extension of himself and his own needs — particularly at the end. For if he had seen him for all that he was: once an infant and a boy, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather. If he had seen him as one with hopes and hurts, dreams and disappointments. If he had seen him as one beloved by God, then perhaps this story would have ended differently.
Only it appears that though their paths crossed — perhaps as much as every day or more — the rich man never even saw him at all.
I hear this story and I am deeply aware that on any given day it speaks of me. And no, I am not Lazarus. I am so much more like the rich man before us now. At the same time, I know I have been on both sides of the not seeing and not being seen.
Indeed, it was more than a decade ago now. I was at the airport — although time has erased for me my memory of which one. I do remember that I was on my way home and the journey which I was on the last leg of had been a long one. Jet lag had caught up with me and I was walking bleary eyed, just trying to put one foot in front of the other as I made my way to my connecting gate. My carry on bag was rolling behind me.
I did not see her, truly I did not. In fact, I had no idea that my carry on bag had rolled over her foot until with eyes flashing she loudly (and rightly so) called my attention to it. I turned to look into the face of a dark skinned woman. And though on that very long day I do not believe my intrusion on her space (and her foot) had anything to do with my not seeing her because of her race, that was not how she experienced it. I could see this on her face. All I knew to do then was apologize — which I did — and move on.
I did not see her. And while exhaustion was my excuse that day, I do manage to pile on the excuses on other days as well. Exhaustion always works, of course. Or busyness. Or just not knowing or remembering to look for what is, in actuality, right in front of me — or right around the corner if I am at all willing to look.
I experienced a bit of this ‘not being seen’ from the other side a few weeks back. I had taken my mother to an eye appointment. We were sitting in the waiting room. I was turned towards her, visiting quietly, when I was interrupted by the woman sitting across from me. She was looking at us with delight in her eyes, but one did not have to look hard to see the sadness just below the surface.
“Is this your mother?” she asked me.
“She is,” I replied.
“Oh,” she said, “I thought so. You remind me of my sister with our mother. Mom died last year.”
She went on to share her name and spoke of all of her siblings. And what a hard year it had been. Honestly, though, while I felt for her, I was relieved that she got called quickly back for her own appointment, for never once in our exchange did she acknowledge my mother at all — except as one to talk about. Yes, she saw her, but it seemed she only saw her as an extension of or as a reminder of her own loss. Not as the remarkable person she is. This became evident as she directed all of her conversation at me. And it made me uncomfortable. (If it had gone on much longer, I would have found a way to pull my mother into the conversation. I will be sure to do so next time, for I hope to be more ready.)
Too, too often, others are simply invisible to us. As a stranger in an airport was to me once many years ago. As my mother essentially was to the woman who sat across from us in a doctor’s waiting room a few weeks back. As Lazarus was to the rich man — and no doubt to countless others — as he sat and begged at the gate. The name “Lazarus” actually means “God is my help.” And without a doubt, in the end God was the only help Lazarus had.
Only the parable which is ours today is meant to speak to us the truth that this is not how it is meant to be. Jesus teaches today that all of our lives are caught up with one another in ways that have consequences now and consequences into eternity. And if I see. If I truly see the other? Perhaps that can be the start of living in a way that acknowledges the truth that we all belong to one another. In this life. Right now. Indeed, I pray it may be so.
- In a couple of weeks, several congregations in my community will be learning the practice “Dwelling in the World.” This practice enables us to see and engage people we might not normally see at all. You can find out more about this practice at Church Innovations.
- Would you agree that the rich man’s sin begins with his not even seeing Lazarus at all? Why or why not?
- When have you not seen another? How was that oversight brought to your attention? And what did you do about it? When did you ‘see’ another? And what did that ‘seeing’ lead to?