If you visit our larger towns and cities, one thing that strikes you is the number of people begging on the streets.
I used to live near Edinburgh, and walking along Princes Street, I’d lose count of the number of homeless people sitting on the pavement during the day & huddled in shop doorways in the evening looking for handouts.
And one other thing would always strike me – to most of the pedestrians, these folk were invisible!
People going or coming to work, or shopping or having an evening out, didn’t seem to register their existence.
They were just part of the scenery.
I remember one Christmas Eve about twenty years ago. It would be about four thirty in the afternoon, dark and bitterly cold. The window displays in the big shops in Princes Street were bright and filled with expensive yet tempting gifts. Last minute Christmas shoppers were rushing from this store to that trying to track down that elusive present for Uncle Jimmy or Auntie Mary or whomever.
The shoppers were weighed down with carrier bags and gift wrapped parcels. The sound of Christmas carols could be heard through the opening and closing doors of the busy shops.
It was a time for celebration and generosity and giving. It was Christmas time.
And lying on the pavement with his back to the wall of Jenners department store was a bundle of rags. On closer inspection, a down and out.
And these Christmas shoppers in their rush and in their busyness to celebrate the season of giving, walked round him – in fact, I’m sure I saw some of them actually step over him in their hurry.
It would appear that nowadays many are blinkered to the sight of the needy, the wretched, the poor and the outcast. They become, as it were, part of the scenery. We cease to notice them.
That was the sin of the rich man in the story which Jesus told
The rich man didn’t even take in the existence of the poor man, whose name was Lazarus. He was just part of the scenery.
The rich man had not asked for Lazarus to moved from his gate forcibly or otherwise (some city councillors – and, I’m thinking of Edinburgh again – have been known to have the down and outs rounded up and moved from their usual patches, especially at Festival time. That way they don’t offend the tourists. The same happened a few years ago before one of the Olympic games was staged – I think in Mexico City)
No, the rich man didn’t get his servants to move the man away because he was an eyesore.
Nor was he deliberately cruel to him. He didn’t kick him every time he passed. (we may not use physical assault either, but sometimes our words or comments toward those less fortunate than ourselves can hurt and wound “get a job, you lazy scrounger!” or simply, to quote an old saying “the poor will be always with us” and it’s God’s will…..
Do you remember the verse from ‘All things bright and beautiful’? It’s a verse we don’t sing anymore:
“The Rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.”
No, the rich man was not deliberately cruel to Lazarus.
His sin was that he never noticed Lazarus, that he accepted him as part of the landscape, that he thought it perfectly natural and inevitable that Lazarus should lie in pain and hunger, while he wallowed in luxury.
The sin of the rich man was that he could look on the world’s suffering and need, and feel not a twinge of grief or pity.
That is a warning to us all. Christ’s parable confronts and threatens all comfortable and indifferent Christians. Whatever we gain, we have by the grace of God.
As we see the world around us, it is possible – even as we profess our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – to go on living selfishly in a manner that God ultimately condemns.
How shall we live? According to our own wishes, attending to our every desire? Or according to God’s revealed and stated will?
How shall we decide? Well, perhaps the chilling tale of the rich man and Lazarus may just help concentrate our thoughts and help us in our choice! And so too the words of Christ himself: ‘As you did unto one of these, the least of my brethren, you did unto me.’