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THE SIN OF NOT NOTICING

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.’

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Martha and Mary (from LiturgyWorship that works – spirituality that connects – by Bosco Peters)

‘Unauthorised version’ by U.A. Fanthorpe

Of course he meant it kindly. I know that.
I know Josh—as well as anyone can know
The Son of God. All the same, he slipped up
Over this one. After all, a Son is only a son
When you come to think about it. And this
Was between sisters. Marty and me,
We understand each other. For instance, when Lazzie died,
We didn’t need to spell it out between us,
Just knew how to fix the scenario
So Josh could do his bit—raising Lazzie, I mean,
From the dead. He has his own way of doing things,
Has to muddle people first, so then the miracle
Comes as a miracle. If he’d just walked in
When Lazzie was iII, and said OK, Lazzie,
You’re off the sick list now — that’d have lacked impact.
But all this weeping, and groaning, and moving of stones,
And praying in public, and Mart saying I believe, etcetera,
Then Lazarus, come forth! and out comes Lazzie
In his shroud. Well, even a halfwit could see
Something out of the ordinary was going on.
But this was just ordinary. A lot of company,
A lot of hungry men, not many helpers,
And Mart had a go at me in front of Josh,
Saying I’m all on my own out there. Can’t you
Tell that sister of mine to take her finger out,
And lend a hand? Well, the thing about men is,
They don’t realise how temperamental good cooks are.
And Mart is very good. Believe you me.
She was just blowing her top. No harm in it.
I knew that. But then Josh gives her
This monumental dressing-down, and really,
It wasn’t fair. The trouble with theology is, it features
Too much miraculous catering. Those ravens feeding Elijah,
For instance. I ask you! They’d have been far more likely
To eat him. And all those heaven-sent fast-food take-aways—
Quail, and manna, and that. And Josh himself
The famous fish-butty picnic, and that miraculous
Draught of fishes. What poor old Mart could have done with
Was a miraculous draught of coffee and sandwiches
Instead of a ticking-off. And the men weren’t much help.
Not a thank you among them, and never a thought
Of help with the washing-up.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course I love Josh,
Wonder, admire, believe. He knows I do.
But to give Marty such a rocket
As if she was a Pharisee, or that sort of type,
The ones he has it in for. It wasn’t right.
Still, Josh himself, as I said—well, he is only
The Son of God, not the Daughter; so how could he know?
And when it comes to the truth, I’m Marty’s sister.
I was there; I heard what was said, and
I knew what was meant. The men will write it up later
From their angle, of course. But this is me, Mary,
Setting the record straight.

‘Unauthorised version’, From U.A. Fanthorpe, Collected Poems 1978-2003, (Calstock, Cornwall: Peterloo Poets, 2005)

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The Sin of Not Noticing

Притча о Лазаре. 1886

Притча о Лазаре. 1886 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lazarus and the rich man, 1620

Lazarus and the rich man, 1620 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rila Monastery, Rilakloster, Kloster Rila, Рил...

Rila Monastery, Rilakloster, Kloster Rila, Рилски манастир, Bulgaria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazar...

English: The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, painting by Bartholomeus van Bassen, ca. 1620-30 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 particular Christmas Eve .  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 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…..

There’s a 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.

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.’

Scripture Reference (The Rich Man and Lazarus):  Luke 16, verses 19 – 31

 

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