Becoming Holy

Rich Man/Poor Man

on September 30, 2013

ImageI cried like a baby.  Joe handed his handkerchief to me and looked at me quizzically.  I COULD NOT stop the tears from streaming down my face.  I dabbed at my eyes, tipped my head back and blinked rapidly, then dabbed some more.  It was the homily.  The words of the precious priest from Poland were both opening and ripping up my heart. Evidently he hadn’t been kidding when he suggested we “fasten our seat belts” for the morning’s readings and Gospel. The first reading from the book of Amos carried warnings from God to a people lounging on beds of ivory, drinking wine from bowls,  who ate the choicest lambs and calves from the flock while Joseph was suffering.  Amos was sent to warn them that this would come to an end and they would be exiled.  The Gospel, from Luke, was the story of the rich man(nameless) and the poor man(Lazarus) who was lying just outside the gates of his house, starving and covered with sores. Day after day, the rich man passed by Lazarus and failed to see him or do anything to help him.  Both died and Lazarus was with Abraham while the rich man suffered in torment.  

Most of us have heard these Scriptures before…I had.  I’d never been reduced to tears by them.  Fr. M’s insights about Amos, a minor prophet, included the fact that Amos means “burden bearer.”  Not much is known of him except that he was a shepherd and a keeper of sycamores, as Father said, “just a normal farmer.” God sent Amos to speak to the people of Samaria.  The message wasn’t pretty.  It wasn’t politically correct.  The women of Samaria were called “fat cows” and condemned for their indifference to what was going on outside their palaces.  The people of Samaria were condemned for not caring about Joseph (Israel) and warned of their coming exile. Father reminded us that we, too, live in relative abundance. We have warm homes, nice cars, clothes, cell phones, etc. We are some of the richest people in the world. What are we to do? Father observed that the problem was not “wealth” the problem was INDIFFERENCE!  Being wealthy in Israel was perceived as an earthly reward for living a just life.  The harm was not in the wealth. The Gospel further acknowledges this.  The problem was not the wealth of the rich man…it was the fact that he “passed by” Lazarus every day without seeing him.  A man, sick and covered with sores, lying outside the gates of his home and he never even saw him.  It was easy to classify the rich man as a bad, uncaring, selfish person and accept that bad people end up in torment.  However, Father M. burst that bubble when he said, “The rich man was most likely a very good person.  He was so caught up in his own life, he was indifferent to those around him.”

This is when the tears started. Father M. continued his comparison of the Scripture to our daily lives.  “Who is Lazarus in our lives?”  The lonely? The poor? The elderly? Who do we walk past EVERY DAY and not even see? He spoke of an elderly man in a nursing home~a man with seven children. This man receives visits from his kids ONCE every two or three months.  A quick peek in~not a real visit. That elderly man is as abandoned and sore covered as Lazarus. Do his children realize the role they are playing? Do I realize the role I’m playing? Do I really SEE everyone around me? Is there a neighbor I haven’t met? A person at church I don’t take time for? A child in my family who needs attention? Do I know a relative needing support? A stranger needing a smile? A homeless person needing eye contact? The tears are running as quickly as the thoughts are darting around in my brain. I struggle to listen and think at the same time. I am spellbound by Father’s honesty and his clarity of purpose. In the Gospel, the rich man asks Abraham to send a messenger to his brothers, still living, and warn them to change their ways. Abraham declines, saying they have already been taught by Moses and the prophets. I cannot help but recognize the warning is for me. I have been told to “see” the less fortunate. I have been advised that someone may be outside my gate, needing help. I, like the rich man, would like to think of myself as a “good person.” In my mind, I had to evaluate that this “good person” ended up in torment and the same could happen to me. 

Which of my beds are made of ivory? Is it our new home? What is this wine Amos speaks of? Is it flavored coffees at home and pilgrimages to Dutch Brothers? Are the choicest lambs and calves representative of the myriad of choices I have at my fingertips? One often hears, “He/She was a good person.”  I don’t want to be “good.” I want to be who God wants me to be.  If He places a “Lazarus” outside my gates, I am going to pray for the wisdom to see him or her. If Fr. M is correct and the sin of the rich man and of the Samarian women was not wealth but indifference, then a positive change would be to seek the opposite of indifference.  The words of Elie Wiesel echo in my soul~

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.”

Ahhhh…so the opposite of indifference is love, beauty, faith, and life. Seeking those things in EACH person I meet.  To love them, to see their inner beauty, to keep and share faith, to live and share the life of Christ~these opposites will eliminate indifference.  Huge challenge.  So the tears ran and they will run again.  Lazarus will be overlooked and sorrow will stream from my eyes. I think this will take effort and perhaps minimizing distractions.  It’s hard to “see” Lazarus if I’m luxuriating in the ivory tower, phone in one hand, coffee in the other.  Must put some of these things DOWN. It’s our life’s journey~looking forward to making it with each of you…perhaps together, we will more easily see and help each Lazarus in our lives.  

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2 responses to “Rich Man/Poor Man

  1. Marilyn Lerandeau says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts today. You definitely hit a nerve today. Tears were rolling down my face just reading this. Yes, we need to really see what is going on around us. Just the smallest thing could make another’s day.

    Many years ago a sermon hit me that way. I just cried. Thought about getting up and leaving church but didn’t want to miss anything else. God does speak to us! We just need to listen.

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