Sept. 26, 2004
There were two major league baseball players, a catcher and a pitcher. They were not only good friends but also men of faith. They both loved baseball so much, that they could not imagine being happy in heaven if there were no baseball there. So they made a pact that whoever would die first would try to come back and report whether there was baseball in heaven or not.
Shortly after this agreement, the catcher suddenly died and entered his eternal reward. A couple months later, being a man of his word, he appeared in a dream to his friend. “I have good news and I have bad news,” he said. “Which do you want to hear first?” The pitcher responded, “I’ll take the good news”. “Well the good news is this: there definitely is baseball in heaven. The field is perfect, the crowd is always supportive, and I play every day.” “Wonderful,” said his friend. “What’s the bad news?” “Well the bad news is, I’m looking at the board posting the players for tomorrow’s game, and you are scheduled to pitch.”
It is going to happen to all of us sooner or later, with warning or unexpectedly. We will need to pass from this life to the next, and make an account of the life we have lived. That is why it would be wise for us to listen to Jesus’ teaching in today’s parable. In this disturbing but important parable we hear how a rich man failed to attain eternal life, even though he had been abundantly blessed.
Why did he fail? There is nothing in the parable that indicates he was a dishonest man or a mean man. Nothing that indicates he was unthankful for what he received. He seemed to be a person who enjoyed life and who shared what he had with his family and friends as he feasted sumptuously every day. Nor is there anything in the parable that indicates that he mistreated the poor man Lazarus who was at his gate. He did not insult him or abuse him. In fact, it seems that he never even noticed him.
This is what I would suggest is the failure of the rich man: he did not notice Lazarus at his gate. The two of them did not live far apart. Lazarus was sitting at his very door. Yet the rich man lived his life isolated from the poor man. There was a gap between them. The rich man lived his life without noticing the poor man who was close at hand. After his death, the rich man certainly noticed Lazarus. Not only did he notice him, but he wanted to bridge the gap between them. He begged that Lazarus would bring but a bit of water to cool his tormented tongue. But after death we discover that the gulf becomes a chasm, and it is no longer possible to cross it.
Obviously then, the point of the parable is to notice Lazarus at our door and to reach out to him while there is still time.
Lazarus is at our gate. He is one of the more than one million children who are homeless in America, who sleep every night on our streets. He is one of the many fellow Americans who are afflicted with and dying from AIDS. Lazarus is at our door. She is one of the millions of Americans who have no access to health care, who must choose between buying her heart medicine and putting food on her table. Lazarus is at our gate. He is an acquaintance who lost his job through downsizing and has just taken out a second mortgage. She is an elderly woman who is in a nursing home now for ten years where no one visits.
Lazarus is at our door. He is the person in our school or in our office that cries out for respect but must face ridicule every day. She is the person struggling with mental illness who comes off a bit odd and is discounted as a person of value. He is our next door neighbor who recently lost his wife of forty years and hangs around the driveway as we come home, looking for company.
Jesus calls us to notice Lazarus at our door, and to reach out and cross the gulf that isolates us from him. He calls us to do this in a very personal and specific way. It is important to notice in the parable that the rich man did not ignore all the beggars in Israel, but only Lazarus who was closest to him.
We cannot be expected to reach out to the millions of people without health care or the tens of millions who are dealing with grief. But we can be expected to notice the Lazarus who sits at our gate. Who is he? What is her name? You know it. The name is coming to your mind right now. That person is the person that the gospel calls you to recognize, to notice, and to touch. Do not ignore him or her. Do not pretend that the need of one so near to you is not your concern.
There is good news and bad news in today’s gospel. The bad news is that we are very likely ignoring people who are close to us and who are in need. The good news is that there is still time to change. Lazarus is at our door. Jesus calls us to notice him and let our love make a difference. Reach out, cross the gulf that presently separates you from him. After death, it will be too late.