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September, 22 2016

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dr. Susan Fleming McGurgan

 

He was almost invisible…

 

The rich man,

snug inside his home,   

simply couldn’t be bothered

with every bum or beggar

who lounged beside his gate.

 

The servants,

busy with many things,    

no longer noticed

the cripples who crowded around the door,

or the children holding empty bowls.    

 

In fact,

no one,  

not even the guests arriving for the feast,

ever really “saw” him.

But as they passed by,

they turned their heads

and clutched their robes a little tighter

determined to stay clean and undefiled.  

 

After all,

a man like that

must have done something

to lose God’s blessing.

 

And so,

he was almost invisible—

except to the dogs who licked his sores

and snarled over the scraps of meat

and crumbs of stale bread.  


We don’t really know

what brought him to the rich man’s gate,

alone, and in desperate need.   

Maybe he was betrayed by a friend,

or ruined by an ugly scandal.

Maybe the taxes

that threatened to crush his land

finally crushed him, too.    

Maybe he became sick,

or lame,  

or possessed by a demon.   

 

Or maybe

he had always been lost.

Maybe he lived his entire life

among the brambles and the weeds,

crying out for relief.       

 

No one knows

how he ended up at the gate,

but then, no one really cares, either…

because, you see,   

he is almost invisible.

 

And yet,

of all the people

in all the parables,

he alone is given a name…

Lazarus.

Lazarus, which means,

“God has helped”. 

 

And Lazarus is waiting at the gate.

 

# # #

 

 

Almost every day,

she sits in the empty doorway

next to the big stone church.

 

If you stop to look,

you will see that both she,

and the church,

have seen better days.

 

Now and then,

the people who pass by

on their way to work

or back home from the bars   

can hear her sing a tuneless song

in a trembling old voice.  

 

Sometimes,

little pieces of her life

return to her with a jolt that makes her cry.

And for a moment—

just that one moment—

she feels as if she could wrap her arms  

around something warm and sweet.  

 

Sometimes,

the fog lifts a bit,

and she wonders how she got there

and why she doesn’t just go home.

 

But most of the time,

her days pass in a haze of booze

and dementia

and aching hunger.

 

And most of the time,

she is almost invisible.

 

Inside the church,

the struggling community

works hard just to stay alive. 

The parish council  

debates an agenda item,

and the head of finance pores over the bills,     

and the long-range planning team

wrestles with the future.  

 

If only folks weren’t afraid to come downtown…

                    If only we could beautify the neighborhood…

If only we could raise enough money;

reduce the debt…

      If only things hadn’t changed so much…

 

And meanwhile,  

Lazarus is waiting at the gate.

 

# # #

 

He was the kind of kid

who never quite fit in.

In the eyes of his classmates,

he always looked a little different—

a little awkward,

a little strange.

He seemed to be all elbows

and feet

and sticking-out hair.

 

This boy wasn’t mean,

or silly

or emotionally disturbed.

He was just—

different.

 

His laughter was a little too desperate,

and his voice a little too shrill.

His answers were often wrong,

or even worse—

unusual.

 

He was the kind of boy

who dies a little bit at recess

each and every day.

 

While the others swarmed over the field

and argued over choosing up teams,

and bragged

about who was the fastest and the best,

and who would win

and which captain would get the first choose,

he stood alone

just beyond the field,

knowing that no captain would choose him.

 

Oh, people were never openly cruel.

they didn’t really care enough to be mean

and besides,

the playground moms

who gossiped

and tied shoelaces

and patrolled the blacktop

with band-aids

were too vigilant for that.

 

It’s just that he was ignored.

 

And in the narrow

and complicated world of recess,

that could be the deepest cut of all—

far too deep to be helped by a band-aid.

 

And so,

on a bright autumn day,

on a neat suburban playground,

Lazarus stood waiting at the gate.

 

# # #

 

Some parables are comforting.

The lost sheep,

The lost coin,

The lost son.

These are stories that invite us

to snuggle deep into the Gospel

like Grandma’s old quilt.

 

These parables remind us

that we are God’s beloved—

      no matter how lost we become;

               no matter how far we stray.

 

Other parables are not quite so soothing.

And some…

well, some of them

are downright disturbing.

These parables,

like the one we read today,

remind us that God loves reversals.

They remind us that what we see

is not always what God sees.

 

They paint a picture of discipleship

that’s not exactly painless,

or simple  

or even very safe.

They teach us

that some of the most serious offenses against God

are not the sins we commit,

but the acts we omit.

 

Apathy, blindness, absence, neglect.

 

The rich man never really hurt Lazarus.

He didn’t hate him,

or betray him

or abuse him.  

He didn’t cause Lazarus to fail

or leave him begging at the gate.

 

He simply ignored him.  

 

And God says,

that alone

is enough to create a chasm between us.  

 

We desperately want this parable

to be about “them”.

The rich athlete…

The corporate executive…

The wealthy rock star…

The woman who inherited money…

The politician with power.

You know…Them.

The ones who should really DO something

about the beggars at the gate.  

 

After all,

very few of us feast in luxury every night.

Feasting?

Most of us can barely cover    

mortgage payments,

food,

tuition,

gas,

health care,

braces,

weekly offerings.    

 

And some of us struggle

just to make one day

meet the next.  

 

But maybe God is trying to remind us

that the world of rich and poor;

the world of have and have not;

the world of visible and invisible;

is not God’s creation,

but our own.   

 

Maybe God is trying to remind us

that everything--

our lives,

our talents,

our food,

our ability to earn money

our desire to support our families,

our shelter,

even our faith,

is pure gift.

 

And because of that gift,  

the way we deal with Lazarus

matters to God.

The way we view poverty and wealth

matters to God.

The way we handle material goods

matters to God.

 

The beggar outside the gate,

The old woman lost in disease and despair,

The child standing alone on the playground, 

The man struggling with painful addiction,

The prisoner learning about forgiveness;

The Church community, facing an uncertain future;  

These are people beloved by God. 

 

God knows each and every name,

each and every need,

even when the world appears to be blind.   

 

Maybe through this parable,

God is trying to remind us

that no matter where we live,

no matter who we are,

no matter how much money we make,  

Lazarus is waiting for us at the gate.

 

And somehow,

through him,

Christ is there waiting for us, too.

 

© Dr. Susan Fleming McGurgan

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