26/Ord/C Luke 16: 19-31 The Rich Man and Lazarus
I spent a couple of weeks with my sisters and niece in England this past summer----at the end of our time together, they flew home and I stayed on for a few days to visit friends. It was my last day in London, and because it was Sunday, I headed out for mass----there was a terrible traffic jam all over the city because of a bike race, so the Tube was very crowded---which made me arrive later to church than I wanted to---I slid into a pew right as mass was beginning. That’s late for me. I ended up sitting next to a little old man who was obviously homeless. He nodded at me as I sat down. For a brief second, I thought about moving, because he smelled so bad, but there was nowhere that I could go. So, I took a deep breath, and stayed put. The little old man was also obviously Catholic---he knew all the prayers by heart. The music was not the best, and the homily was not memorable, and I didn’t know anyone---all of which made me homesick for the preaching, music and community that is here. When it came time for the collection, I dug in my purse for some money to put into the collection. It’s always interesting to me to see how other Catholic parishes do things---the ushers had collection bags, which they did NOT pass down the pew. No……they came and stood in front of you and held the bag for you and glared until you put something in it. I looked up from my purse to see the usher standing right in front of me with the collection bag held out to me---I put some bills in and then he stepped over to the man who was sitting next to me and held the bag in front of him. The man looked up at the usher with tears in his eyes and said in a strained voice, “I got nothing.” My heart broke. I forgot that he smelled bad and was kicking myself for even noticing that, because now I realized that I was sitting next to Lazarus in the flesh. Mass continued as usual, but I was horribly distracted by what had just happened. The man went to communion, but didn’t step back into what was now ‘our’ pew—he stood in the aisle. When I looked up after the period of silent prayer, he was gone. So as mass ended, I ran out the door to see if I could find him to ask if he needed something to eat. I finally spotted him a block away, but with traffic and the crowds, he soon disappeared. It was too late. He has been haunting my prayer ever since.
Last Sunday's gospel warned us that we shouldn’t make money into a god---this week's gospel shows us what happens when we do. When money, or possessions, or other stuff become more important to us than anything else----we become less than we are called to be. What do the rich man and Lazarus have in common? Not much, except for this-----both of them die. Death is the great equalizer. It’s only when the rich man dies that he starts to clue in to what he missed in life. Too little, too late.
We all know this story, and we know that it doesn’t end well for the rich man---but not because he was rich. It’s because he was oblivious to the poor man who was right by his door, just as I was mostly oblivious to the poverty of the man who was sitting next to me in church that Sunday. I love the part where the rich man tries to order Abraham and Lazarus around. “Tell Lazarus to get me a drink.” “Send Lazarus to my family.” It makes me want to jump into the story and say “Sir, it needs to occur to you that you are in hell. This, of course means that you don’t get to do things the way you are used to doing---and you aren’t giving the orders either.” Or something like that. Not that I’ve ever been to hell, but I’m reasonably sure that it doesn’t operate that way.
It's not about what the rich man DID---it's about what he didn't do. In the Confiteor, we admit our sinfulness, “in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” The sin is in the “what I have failed to do” part. The rich man didn’t attack or abuse Lazarus----he didn’t do anything at all to Lazarus. He could have justifiably said “Hey, I didn’t do anything.” And God would say…..’exactly.’ He had the money, the power, and ability to help someone who desperately needed it. He did nothing. And before he realized his mistake, time ran out.
There is still time for us.
Lazarus walks among us every day—do we see him? For the last month, he has been across the street staying at St Margaret’s---and for 12 days, over 100 volunteers from this faith community fed and cared for him. He lives at St Martin de Porres Shelter on the waterfront. He stands by the side of the road with a sign that says “Homeless Vet. Anything helps.” He is the little old man that I sat next to at mass at Our Lady of Mt Carmel and St Simon Stock parish in Kensington. He is everywhere, and we mostly don’t see him until it’s too late. I think that sometimes we are afraid----Lazarus can be scary and smelly. If we stop to notice, something will be required of us, and we are afraid of what it might be. If you follow the news, or even Facebook, you will notice that it has become very clear that one person who isn’t afraid of Lazarus is Pope Francis. Much to the chagrin of his security detail, Francis plunges into crowds of people and is most often pictured hugging or blessing the sick, the disabled. Lazarus. I saw the photos of the Pope’s visit to Sardinia last Sunday----they brought the sick, and I mean really sick--people on gurneys, people with oxygen tanks--- to the Basilica of Our Lady of Bonaria ---it looked like a hospital and reminded me of Pope Francis’ words the previous week when he spoke of the Church as a ‘field hospital after battle.” People in need, people who suffer---they are frightening to us—it’s easier to ignore them. We Catholics have, as a role model, a leader who isn’t afraid to jump into the midst of suffering and be there within it. His tender care and visible love for the ‘least of these’ is tangible and something that we should all take to heart.
Today’s Gospel invites us to remember that we really are called to take care of each other---and it starts by noticing that there is someone there, someone in need, someone who is Lazarus walking among us, someone who is Jesus in disguise.