Do we see?

Homily 564 – 20 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
October 22, 2023
Epistle – (200) – Galatians 1:11-19
Gospel – (83) – Luke 16:19-31

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The account of the rich man and Lazarus provides much food for thought.  First, worth pointing out that Lazarus isn’t the same as the Lazarus that was returned to life, the brother of Mary and Martha.

We don’t know if this is a parable, or a story from life.  Most parables aren’t given names.  We’re given the name of the poor beggar, and not the name of the rich man.  Maybe there is something there – perhaps that on its own is a statement about how Jesus views the participants in the story He tells.

So maybe if this is a story or a parable, doesn’t matter.

Like most of the scripture, whether allegory, or parable, or historical event, there are several dimensions of truth being communicated, perhaps none more important than this account of earthly life, and the afterlife.

Even that term “afterlife” is a bit of a misnomer.  Maybe it would be better to call this world “pre-life” and the world to come the real life.

We can pick out a few lessons here before we go too deep into the story.  The first, maybe most obvious, is that Christ tells us that in the world to come, those who lived in luxury, and those who lived in misery, will find their roles switched.

That may be too simplistic, because it wasn’t just one experienced poverty and the other wealth.  The rich man was, from the story, not just rich, but he was selfish.  He refused to share of his abundance with the one who had little, or like Lazarus, had nothing.

Second, the rich man is convinced that should one rise from the dead, he could influence his family to change their ways, and is told no.  That won’t happen.  The family left in this life had Moses, had the prophets, but paid them no attention, perhaps ignoring them altogether.  And so, they wouldn’t change.

Of course, Christ was predicting His own resurrection, and that people would (and do) ignore that as well.

Those are the obvious lessons.  What I’d like for us to consider this morning is why the rich man wouldn’t help the beggar at the gate.

Now obviously, the rich man didn’t consider what the torments of Hades would be like, compared to the comfort and contentment of Abraham’s bosom.  Maybe he wasn’t paying attention in the synagogue, or the temple.

That argument can be valid, but really doesn’t get much in the way of sympathy with me.  I suspect those of us who see someone in need have an impulse to help.  That comes regardless of our religious beliefs and the beliefs of what happens after death.  It is really part of our basic humanity.

We sometimes spend a lot of time and thought about giving to someone in need.  If we are honest with ourselves, we want to determine if they are worthy of being helped.  I used to spend a good deal of time in New York City, and giving money to beggars was discouraged.  If you gave some cash to a beggar, some people would actually tell you to stop doing that – you are enabling them, to use the modern terminology.

But generally speaking, I think the human instinct is to help.  We have to think about it to resist that instinct.  We have to rationalize it – they really don’t need it, they are using the funds to buy drugs, they refuse to work.

None of which are shown to be true, by the way.  Most homeless people, when given money without obligation, will use it for food and shelter.  And when I say most, I mean greater than 90%, according to most studies.  In fact the ones who use the money for things other than necessities of life are the exception, rather than the rule.

Getting back to the topic at hand, I think the rich man, in his luxury, simply didn’t see Lazarus.  Perhaps he didn’t want to see Lazarus.  Perhaps he didn’t consider Lazarus to be human.

Before you dismiss that last thing, I can remind you that nearly every discriminatory activity involves depersonalizing others.  De-humanizing others.  That is certainly what happened to Africans on the North American continent.  That is what happens to others who make lifestyle choices different than us.  If we want to restrict the activities of others, we have to dehumanize them, make them not persons.

We see the same in the treatment of immigrant populations throughout history.  First it was the Irish.  Then Italians, then Polish, then Haitian, then Latino.  Sometimes it wasn’t based on ethnicity – but was based on class.  The term “white trash” is certainly not affirming the value of others as human beings.

Anytime we think of anyone as “other” than us, other than ourselves, beneath us, we remove a portion of their humanity.

And when we remove any portion of their humanity, they are no longer equal to the rest of humanity.  They are no longer made, at least in our minds, in the image and likeness of the Creator.

That isn’t the reality.  The reality is that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, regardless of our country of origin, or tribe of origin, or lifestyles we choose to pursue.  Sure, there are ways of acting like we don’t have the image of God within us.  But I would argue the rich man is the prime example of that.

The rich man didn’t behave like he was the image and likeness of the Creator of humanity.  The Creator of everything that exists.  The rich man was selfish, and our God is giving and generous.

No, I think the rich man for whatever reason was blinded to the beggar Lazarus.

So we, brothers and sisters, need to force ourselves to see what is around us.  Pray that we might be enlightened to see those in need.  Start there.  Work up to giving, and even beyond giving – which to me, is sharing.

In sharing of what we have, we not only meet a need, but we meet a person.  And Christ tells us when we meet a person, we meet Him.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.