Seeing What’s Right In Front Of Us

This Sunday’s Gospel is one of those passages that is hard to misinterpret and difficult to ignore. It is not a simple comparison; Jesus isn’t telling us this story to hold Lazarus, the poor man, up as all that is good, nor is he condemning the rich man as purely evil. This is a story about the importance of opening our eyes to what is right in front of us. It is a caution about getting too wrapped up in the details of one’s own life and becoming blind and deaf to the cries of the poor on our doorstep. It is tremendously uncomfortable and humbling, to have to confront the fact that we can become so focused on our own needs and self-sufficiency, and those of our immediate families, that we become immune to the deficiency of basic needs that is faced by so many in the wider world.

St. John of the Cross said, “In the evening of life, we will be examined in love.” Much like the rich man is tormented after his death because of his failure to acknowledge and serve the poor man at his gate, our actions- and our inaction– will be assessed through the lens of love at the end of our own lives. Where have we failed to see those who suffer? When have we seen but dismissed it, whether because we believe it is someone else’s responsibility, or because it looms so large a problem we feel overwhelmed?

The rich man, upon hearing that his own loved ones will suffer his fate, begs Abraham to send Lazarus to show them the error of their ways before it’s too late. Abraham knows that it is a request doomed to fail. If even Moses’ wisdom and example hasn’t opened their eyes by now, it is unlikely that anything will.

In addition to the example we also have of Moses, we have, among others, two amazing women in our lifetime, who have exemplified awareness of the poor and the disadvantaged.

St. Teresa of Calcutta gave her life in service to some of the most impoverished in the world. The Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa in 1950, would, by 2012 include 4,500 sisters, be active in 133 countries and would focus much of its resources on serving the people who society most scorned – those with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. She and her sisters would open and run orphanages, schools, clinics and counseling centers.

In addition to the vows common for many orders of chastity, poverty and obedience, members of the Missionaries of Charity also take a fourth vow, which is to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” Despite decades of difficulty and pain in her own prayer life, St. Teresa remained committed to the ministry of those in whom she saw the face of Jesus.

Another example of a life lived with eyes wide open to the needs of the weak and poor is Marian Wright Edelman. Edelman, an activist and voice for children, founded the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973 as a voice for poor children, children of color and children with disabilities. She helped to develop Head Start and worked to persuade Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, improve child care and protect children who are disabled, homeless, abused or neglected. “If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time,” says Edelman.

There are certainly times when I, too, feel like the amount of poverty and need in the world is too vast to contemplate. I find myself wondering what I could possibly do to make even the smallest difference. When I shifted positions from the religious education department here at St. Peter’s to my current role, I was excited and confident that I could do a decent job, but I was a little overwhelmed by the enormity of what I would be taking on. My coworkers in religious education gave me a parting gift and a card, which still hangs on the bulletin board in my office 8 years later. It is my reminder that, as St. Teresa once said, “We can do no great things – only small things with great love.” Every day, my prayer is that I will see first, the real needs of the world, and second, that I will strive to do the small things that might impact the world for the better in some way. As Ms. Edelman stated so perfectly, “You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.”

Let us say a prayer that God will open our eyes to God’s beloved poor. Let us pray that we will keep our hearts and minds free to love them, and in doing so, love and serve God ever more fully. Grant us true freedom – freedom from the excesses of our own lives and freedom from the delusion that we are on our own in the world. Lord, in the evening of our own lives, let it be said that we saw our sisters and brothers in need and served them wholeheartedly.

Lisa Amos

Pastoral Associate


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