(Look at that! The art above by Jacopo Bassano is at the Cleveland Museum of Art.)
Back before I was a priest and still had a certain measure of freedom in my life, I would often house-sit for my sister and brother-in-law before they had my nieces and they had a certain measure of freedom in their lives to travel more. Those were some great summer days because as a college seminarian in the summertimes I lived back home with my parents, and so having a week or two to be on my own with my own space was the greatest thing in the world. All I really had to do was take care of the dogs and cook for myself, so I would get back from work, take the dogs for a walk, and cook myself something close to resembling food. Then, rather than eating by myself at the kitchen table that had this huge sprawling potted plant on it anyway, I’d sit on the couch for the evening with the TV, laptop, and dogs all there with me. It was great. Except one time the day before they got back something dawned on me. I was tidying the place up so they would have a nice clean home to come back and I realized… the huge sprawling plant that took up most of the kitchen table and that I walked past a hundred times?… turns out potted plants need water. In the space of a week or two this thing I swear shrunk to half its size and any leaf you touched became dust in your hand. I knew it was there! I knew it was a potted plant! But never gave it a single thought.
As humans we are quite adept at filtering out the world around us to see what we want to see and to ignore what we don’t want to care about. You’ve been sitting here for something like thirty minutes and I bet not once have you thought about the fabric of your shirt touching your arms. But it is. Has been this whole time. But your mind filters that out as part of the background, something you know but don’t need to be conscious of at every moment. And what the gospel wants us to do today is to be very conscious, very aware that human beings can’t be one of the things that we block from our minds.
The rich man was not ignorant about a poor man lying outside his door. He even knew his name! In his torment he looked up at Abraham and asked him to send Lazarus with a drop of cool water on his finger. He knew that Lazarus was there but in life he didn’t care. His eyes could take in the sight of Lazarus but he didn’t let that into his heart and his mind. If he had he would have opened his door, he would have tended to those sores, he would have given him food from his table. But he didn’t have that habit of mind to be aware of the real human life around him, someone living and thinking and existing just as real as he himself was.
Ever avoid eye contact with the beggars at the freeway exits, maybe even stopping your car just right so that the metal frame between the windshield and the side window blocks them from view? Ever walk through a store so oblivious to the employees that you couldn’t even say how many of them you walked past? Ever realize that you’ve been meaning to call someone for weeks now but, gosh, once again it’s just not the best time to make the effort?
We must push ourselves to wake up to and be aware of the human beings at our door. I know often it’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we are tired or scared or distracted. And as a proud introvert I’m not saying you have to be a social butterfly and talk to every person you come across. But be aware that they are there and they are real. Because one day, the Lazarus of your life will be standing there, a person you are uniquely meant to be the presence of Christ to, and in that moment you better see them.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.