Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Rich Man and Lazarus

The Rev. Gill Keyworth, Deacon

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Katy, Texas

So two weeks running we have had a gospel reading that starts with ‘Jesus said, “There was a rich man……” and in each case Jesus was giving us a different message.

Did the opening of the gospel reading make you feel uncomfortable? Today we hear of a rich man, who ignored the poor diseased man who sat outside his home every day and wanted help. If you have a twenty in your wallet, would it hurt to give two of it to someone who needs a hot cup of coffee or a sandwich? Think about it. It is easy to criticize the rich man but are we like him as well?

The Pharisees considered wealth to be a proof of a person’s righteousness. The rich man dressed in fine purple clothes, an indication of his financial wealth. Jesus startled them with this story in which a diseased beggar is rewarded and a rich man is punished. They both died and the rich man found himself in Hades whilst the poor man ended in heaven. But you know the rich man did not go to hell because of his wealth but because of his behavior towards others, refusing to feed Lazarus, take him in, or care for him. Being rich will not preclude you from going to heaven. As it says in Heb 9:27 “ Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement.” The problem was that the rich man was hard hearted in spite of his great blessings. So the amount of money we have is not as important as the way we use it. True charity is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It has to be about our demeanor.

If you take a closer look at the rich man in the story, nothing tells us that he was vicious. He is not described as being a tyrant or oppressor but we do know he was notoriously selfish and uncharitable because he never helped Lazarus who lay at his gate day after day. The rich man showed no mercy but we are told that “even the dogs would come and lick Lazarus’ sore.” They were the ones who showed compassion. They were the ones who cared, not the man who focused only on himself. The rich man was too busy with himself. He had enough time to do the things he wanted to do, but neglected the most important thing. That is opening his heart and to genuinely wanting to help others and to show neighborliness.

As a child, Alice Gahana survived two concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Asked what she remembered most, she replied, “The empty windows.”

German soldiers came to her little village when she was nine years old and told her family to come to the village square.

“I walked that morning carrying my suitcase, down our cobble-stoned street—the street that I had walked all my life…

…But as I walked down the street, I noticed the windows were empty.

No one came to the windows.

My friends and neighbors knew what was happening but nobody came to the windows to see what was happening to ME.” Alice felt alone and unloved.

To be left alone in this world must be one of the most horrible of all plights. To feel as if no one cares, can be like hell itself! To be separated from the love of family and friends can be torture. Have you ever felt as if no one cared about you?

Have you ever experienced that deep dark chasm of utter alone-ness?

Jesus makes it very clear in our Gospel reading this morning that this parable is not just a morality tale about riches and poverty—though, it should be read that way as well. No, it goes much deeper than that. It’s about indifference, selfishness, and what it really means to “Love God and love our neighbor as our self” which is the greatest commandment. And don’t forget you only have this one lifetime to get it right.

In order for love to be real, it must reach out actively. Love requires that we help other people where they are and whatever their plight. And there are so many different ways to help and reach out to others to show that we care and love.

That is what we are called to do as Christ’s followers. I believe that sometimes, all people need and want is to be noticed. That helps to lessen their feeling of loneliness. Sometimes all they need is to know that in the midst of terrible and difficult times, somebody cares! Let us for a moment think of the people trying to come into the country through our southern border. They all have different reasons for wanting to be here and I know not all have valid reasons. Being a first generation citizen I know first hand the checks that are made by authorities, and, which MUST be made by authorities. There must be limitations and there are laws to be followed. I am not saying open the gates and let everyone in.  However many of these people who have escaped the tyranny of a despot or are hoping for a safer life for their family, are feeling lonely. They escaped with only the shirts on their backs. They are in a foreign country and although they have thousands of people around them they are lonely and scared and what is happening is that we are intensifying that loneliness. We are separating them from loved ones and increasing their despair and loneliness. We are not listening to them.. We are judging them. It is often falling to aid agencies and church charities to help. Recently a group of deacons from our diocese went to McAllen to help Catholic Charities with their work and to talk to desperate and scared immigrants. But they need more. They are like Lazarus at the gate and we are the rich man. We are a rich nation. Who else do immigrants and those in need turn to turn to? Genuine cases must not be turned away.

I want to hear the meaning of today’s gospel ‘rich man’ as a man who is rich in works, full of grace and love. When we are feeling a little down, a simple question from a neighbor: “Are you okay?” can make all the difference. And of course, we’re not okay, but the simple fact that someone took notice of us and asked can lift our spirits. We can’t weather the storms of life on our own. We all know how freeing and grace-filled it is to be noticed when it seems our world is caving in all around us.

We live in the age of “alone-ness.” We all know Lazarus. We see him every day, on way too many faces. He is our neighbor; our co-worker, our classmate, and yes, he is the homeless man or woman on the street. When we see or hear of someone who is lost, alone, broken down and hurt do we simply say, “It’s a shame, but it is not my problem.” Are we hard hearted or do we take action—do we put God’s love where the rubber meets the road and do something about it?

There are so many people in this world who are in need of help. How exciting it is to be given the great privilege and opportunity to change their day from gray to sunny!

People are lonely and just need someone to talk to or invite them to lunch.

People are hungry and just need someone to help them get to the Beacon or to Katy Christian Ministries to get provisions.

People are lost, and just need to be invited to come to St Paul’s.

To us, Christ says, “It is your problem. It is your responsibility. Take notice. Love one another as I have loved you!”

The truth of this parable is that the rich man needs Lazarus as much as Lazarus needs the rich man. The independence that riches seem to bring is only an illusion. The rich man thinks he can afford not to see Lazarus lying outside his gate.  I say we cannot afford to pass by and not see the people in the Katy area who need our help in some shape or form. Alice Gahana felt invisible and neglected. She knew nobody saw her although they were looking from behind the curtains. . Do not let any one of us walk by her. Amen