If you don’t often feel uncomfortable when reading the Gospel, you might be reading it wrong.
Between a Monday evening Bible Study and Friday classes, I have the great gift of looking at the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel at least six times during a typical week. Sometimes, I’m a little dense, though. It took until Friday afternoon or Saturday before I genuinely started applying it to me.
This past Sunday the Gospel was about the rich man and Lazarus from Luke’s Gospel. It is clearly a rebuke of the rich man’s lack of compassion for the suffering of Lazarus. Also, it emphasized the finality of death and the subsequent judgement.
At first glance, I felt pretty comfortable. I do not look at the suffering of my fellow man with zero compassion. Yet I was prompted to wonder: perhaps the rich man did see Lazarus, did see his suffering, did feel moved–just not enough. Maybe the idea of reaching out made him feel uncomfortable. Or he didn’t know what to do. Or he was nervous that the suffering of Lazarus would be too disturbing to experience up close.
The Gospel suddenly became something I could apply to my life as I remembered a situation where I saw someone suffering, felt bad for them, and then did nothing. There were about three times when I had witnessed a man sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of the sidewalk, well past a time when he should have been home or in a shelter. It was an arresting scene: the sun had set, it was a bit blustery, and there he sat in a wheelchair on the sidewalk with a blanket stretched over his entire body, from his feet to over his head. I saw it and I kept driving, every single time.
A flood of excuses rush to mind in my defense. Yet I am led to wonder if my actions were defensible or not. As a young woman, it seems foolish to get out of my car, alone, at night, in a part of town that might provide more than I could handle. What would I tell the man? I couldn’t welcome him into my home. What if he yelled at me? What if I couldn’t understand him? What if he reached for me, even in kindness, and I withdrew out of fear?
While those excuses don’t seem sufficient, they still seem to be worth something to me. And it leaves me uncertain about what I should have done or what I should do if the same situation presents itself. Perfect love casts out fear and yet it is obvious that I have little of the first and much of the second.
In the briefest moment, I thought of this particular situation and how much it illustrated the Gospel in my own life. The rich man wasn’t necessarily unfeeling, but he didn’t end up doing anything out of compassion for Lazarus. So his feelings didn’t do much good, did they? I feel very sad for the man when I drive by, but I haven’t done anything practical to help him, either. As I considered the situation, I wondered ‘Can I just donate some money and call it good?‘
A man I knew in college was adamant about stopping on the street to talk to beggars and buying them a meal if possible. He said he always had to stop because, “What if nobody else ever did?” That definitely moved my heart, but I also felt so many questions arise since it feels different doing the same things as a young woman. If I was with him, I didn’t mind because I felt safe. But I envied the freedom he felt to just stop and be with the people he saw in need.
This summer in Rome, I was a little apprehensive when walking past the people who would sleep in the tunnels beneath the streets. It unnerved me a bit to walk through during the daylight and even more so when night had already come. I tried to make sure I was near another group or that enough people seemed to be around. Apart from the language barrier, I wasn’t convinced that they would leave me alone and I wasn’t sure I’d know what to do if something happened, especially with students in tow.
I don’t know the solution to these problems. I’m not even sure I know if the problem lies primarily outside or within myself. The Gospel for yesterday prompted me to begin wrestling again with what it means to follow Jesus in the practical, nitty gritty daily situations. It doesn’t bother me too much to go into a prison a couple times per week, but I am intimidated to stop my car to talk to someone clearly in need. What is the Lord asking of me in these particular situations? How am I called to love others?
Lord, I don’t want to be the rich man. Grant me the grace to move out of what is comfortable and into what You want of me. Show me the moments where I am asked to show compassion to the suffering and love to the forgotten. Show me You in each Lazarus I encounter.