Today’s Gospel from St. Luke is Jesus’ tale to the Pharisees of the rich man and Lazarus. Each day, the rich man “dined sumptuously,” while lying at his door “was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell form the rich man’s table.” The story goes on to tell what happened to each after their death, but what I want to focus on is that opening image.
One can almost imagine the rich man walking into his house day after day, having to practically step over Lazarus in the process. I suspect that over time, the man ceased to even notice that the poor man was lying there, seeing him as part of the surroundings. What he didn’t see was his loss. He wouldn’t have seen it that way – he had everything and Lazarus had nothing. But he missed seeing something that could have changed his life.
Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, spoke eloquently on what the rich man missed out on: not merely a chance to feed someone, but a chance to live in relationship with him. He writes:
You can imagine someone in the street falling down and your going to help the person to get up. Then something happens. As you listen to that person you become friends. Perhaps you discover that he or she is living in squalor and has little money. You are not just being generous, you are entering into a relationship which will change your life. You are no longer in control. You have become vulnerable; you have come to love that person. You have listened to her story. You have been touched by that incredible beautiful person who has lived something incredibly difficult. You are no longer in control, you are no longer just the generous one; you have become vulnerable. You have become a friend.
We think of the rich man “suffering torment” after his death because he didn’t share his food with Lazarus. But his greater reason for torment was failing to take the opportunity to be in relationship with someone in need – to become vulnerable, to love.
Most of us dont’ walk over beggars covered with sores on the way into our dinner table. But I suspect we all have people we don’t see – people in need with whom we could be in relationship.