September 25, 2016
AM 6:1A, 4-7 PS 146:7, 8-9, 9-10 1 TM 6:11-16 LK 16:19-31
Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel is unique in that the poor beggar is named – Lazarus. In no other parable does Jesus do this. The Prodigal Son, the widow and the judge, the Good Samaritan – in every other parable, Jesus doesn’t give the characters names. Why is this?
I believe Jesus wanted to make an important distinction to the Pharisees: that the poor, the indigent, the undesirables of society: God knows them all by name, and thus they have dignity. The poor have a right to be known, seen, and recognized. They aren’t faceless entities deserving of blanket generalizations. They aren’t to be overlooked and ignored. Jesus gives a name and identity to the beggar in the parable – Lazarus – to tell his listeners in His time, and to each of us in our own, that even though we may wish such people to be invisible, they are known and loved by God. Christ knows us and calls us each by name – and that includes the homeless, the sick, the impoverished.
It’s easy to look the other way. I see the homeless and destitute standing on street corners, their requests for help scrawled on corrugated signs. I see them, but do I really see them, as Christ sees them? No, I don’t. I silently hope for the red light to switch to green, so I can pass through the intersection and continue on my way.
I know where the shelters are in my community – do I take the time to volunteer, or donate? No, I don’t. It’s easier to drop off at the safe, clean St Vincent de Paul location. It’s easier to give canned goods to a local food bank than serve up meals at a soup kitchen.
That’s not to say the donations aren’t appreciated, or don’t help those who need them. But is it enough? Can more be done? Absolutely, yes! The poor and destitute are still kept at arm’s length. They remain nameless. Not to God, but to me. Part of what it means to follow Christ, to be His disciple, is to live as He lived, and to love as He loved. The poor and needy are not problems to be solved, but people to be loved. And I can’t truly love them unless I call them by their name.
That, I think, is the point.
Blessed Madeleine Delbrel, one of my favorite modern holy people who challenges me in deep, profound ways, wrote this in “We, The Ordinary People of the Streets”:
“The personal love of Christ, ‘He calls each one by name’ – he does not call a category. He knows each one of us ‘as the Father knows the Son.’
“It is up to us to rediscover this personal love ‘of one person for another.’ This love has been distorted through the ‘social’ definitions that we pin to our brothers and tag one each other with. We have lost the ability to encounter each other as one human being meeting another in his individual simplicity. We no longer know how to call each other by name.”
The rich man considered Lazarus a ‘social definition’, a category. Certainly not as a person, and Jesus quite explicitly described the rich man’s fate upon his death. Our call as Christians is to recognize the humanity and personhood of the Lazarus’ we meet in our life, and to love them as Jesus loves them.