Readings (Year C):
Reflection: Take time to notice the marginalized
You have to love it when we get a straight-forward gospel passage on what Christians are called to do.
Typically, when Jesus speaks in parables, the disciples are confused by the story and surprised at the reversal of their expectations. Today’s gospel might surprise but there’s no confusion about the meaning behind the story.
The story tells of a poor man named Lazarus who lies starving at the doorstep of a rich man, who never acted cruelly toward him, but simply failed to see him. Both men die, and Lazarus goes to be with Abraham and the angels, while the rich man suffers punishment, begging for relief from the one he previously ignored. His sin wasn’t his refusal to help the poor, but that Lazarus and his suffering never even entered his mind.
Poet Mary Oliver writes that “attention is the beginning of devotion.” And it’s true that what we pay attention to reveals our main concerns. My children are masters of this. The worms under the rock, the lone wildflower, the cloud that looks like a dolphin—rarely are things of nature too tiny or insignificant to escape their attention. Because they notice, they can appreciate. A person or thing must first be seen to be loved.
Jesus’ audience might have been surprised that the rich man’s failure to notice Lazarus qualified him for such torture, but the point is, though we may blind ourselves to the needs of others, God’s preference remains with the marginalized. Note that Lazarus is named, while the rich man is not, a reversal of how we typically assign respect. How can we reshape our own values and sharpen our vision to see the needs in front of us?
We live in polarized times, not just politically but economically, with an ever-increasing wealth gap between the very rich and the numerous poor and working class. Entire classes of people are marginalized by economics, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or age. The poor are the hardest hit by environmental degradation, failures to fund social programs, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Can we take the time to notice those who are othered by society, moving to places where we can stand in solidarity and work for justice?
Even in death, the rich man fails to notice Lazarus’ humanity, asking him to run errands like dipping his finger in water to provide relief or warning the rich man’s brothers of impending punishment. Abraham responds to the latter request: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
We have been given all the information we need, including the example of the one who conquered death, to bridge these gaps between rich and poor, between those accepted by society and those pushed to the margins. Jesus’ radical call in the gospel demands a shift in our own lives, our own attention, our own privilege and priorities. To quote St. Ambrose: “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.” May we hold loosely to our possessions and offer generously our attention and resources to all.