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.
busy with many things,
no longer noticed
the cripples who crowded around the door,
or the children holding empty bowls.
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.
a man like that
must have done something
to lose God’s blessing.
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 possessed by a demon.
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.
of all the people
in all the parables,
he alone is given a name…
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.
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.
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 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…
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 sticking-out hair.
This boy wasn’t mean,
or emotionally disturbed.
He was just—
His laughter was a little too desperate,
and his voice a little too shrill.
His answers were often wrong,
or even worse—
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,
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
the playground moms
and tied shoelaces
and patrolled the blacktop
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.
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.
well, some of them
are downright disturbing.
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 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,
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.
The ones who should really DO something
about the beggars at the gate.
very few of us feast in luxury every night.
Most of us can barely cover
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
our ability to earn money
our desire to support our families,
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.
Christ is there waiting for us, too.
© Dr. Susan Fleming McGurgan