A few weeks ago, the sermon in church covered the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. I wasn’t raised very religiously and I’ve never really read the Bible, so I didn’t know the story.
In my own words, it goes like this:
There’s the rich man. Outside of the gates to his estate lies a poor, homeless, sick person – Lazarus. Day in and day out, the rich man goes about his day without much of a glance to Lazarus. Both Lazarus and the rich man die. Lazarus goes to the good place; rich man goes to the bad place. At one point in his suffering, the rich man looks up to see Lazarus and Abraham. The rich man calls out and asks that Lazarus “dip the tip of his finger in water” to slate the rich man’s thirst. Abraham, essentially, tells the rich man that there is a “great gulf” between Lazarus’ station and the rich man’s condition and that this gulf cannot be breached.
The rich man then says, if that can’t be done, can Lazarus go and ask tell his family about his fate so that they won’t befall the same fate. Abraham tells the rich man that if his family isn’t listening to Moses and the prophets, then they won’t be persuaded to change even by someone coming to them from the dead.
So, what does all this mean? Heck if I know. But, according to our pastor, one of the most interesting parts of this parable is that we never really learn “what kind of man” the rich man is. We only know he is rich. We don’t know if he’s a good man, a sad man, a happy man … whatever. We only know that he’s rich and that he never really acknowledges Lazarus.
Until he’s dead and suffering that is. Then, the rich man sees Lazarus, but only to order him around like a servant.
So, then the lesson. The pastor questioned us all that Sunday: Do you ever really SEE people? Or do you go about your day with your blinders on, with a cloud about you, with no real regard for the condition of the people around you?
This struck something in me. I’m in the throes of a personal transformation thanks to Martha Beck and being a cadet in her coaching program. So, I’m questioning everything about myself and my actions these days. Between life coach training and attending church regularly, I am an emotional soup sandwhich. So, what did I
learn admit after some self reflection?
I don’t see people. I AM the rich man. The best example: I have always been wary, or even afraid, of homeless people. I would laughingly tell stories about when I worked in downtown D.C. and how I would cross the street to avoid homeless folks. I must have looked crazy, walking in zig zag patterns all over the streets of the city.
As you can imagine, while this wasn’t a new revelation to me, it was a soul shattering discovery. I mean, I’m a good person, aren’t I? I help peoeple that are in need. I love my family. I donate time and money to good organizations. And yet, I was just like the rich man. He might have done all those things too. But, when faced with the depravity right in front on his own eyes, he turned his cheek.
The other day, I drove to CVS (a pharmacy) to get some diapers for my youngest. As I parked my car, I saw a man that was clearly in need standing outside of the store. I watched for a minute, seeing him reach out to the people that were coming out of the store. Some nodded. Some just kept walking. Some immediately bee-lined away as soon as they saw him in his dirty clothes.
I walked into the store and he didn’t look my way. I went about my shopping, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I wondered what his life was like. What brought him to the store that day. What was he asking people for?
I bought my diapers and walked out of the store. I heard a quiet voice, “Excuse me ma’am.”
I stopped. I turned toward him. I looked him in the eyes and I said, “Yes?”
That was the beginning of a short conversation between the two of us. He needed $2 or $3 to catch the bus to the homeless shelter in Alexandria. I handed him $5. Our hands brushed as we exchanged the money. His fingertips were very rough. And cold. He blessed me. I told him that it was very cold outside and that I hoped he would stay somewhere warm. He thanked me again. I blessed him. Then I walked away.
During this short exchange, though, I did something I had never done before. I looked straight into his eyes the whole time. And you know what? He looked straight into my eyes the whole time too. He didn’t look down as he asked me for help. His eyes didn’t skirt furitively around like he was looking for a way out. He didn’t shift his feet. He didn’t give any of the “tells” that he was lying, crazy, or scamming me. Did he use the money on drugs or alcohol instead of a bus to the shelter? Was he really homeless? Was he hoping I’d give him more? Did he think I was a sucker for falling for his story?
I don’t know. And I don’t care. In that moment, we were two people having a conversation – two people really SEEING each other. I
think hope he saw that I was a person who wanted to help but didn’t know how. I saw a person who needed needs a break. End of story.
This all occured in a mere 5 minutes – but I think that 5 minutes changed my life. I’m pretty sure it didn’t change his. But, I really SAW him. I saw a human being. A person in trouble. A person needing help. I put aside everything to be present in that moment – in order to SEE and HEAR and TOUCH and FEEL.
My eyes have been opened, perhaps for the first time. I am more observant of the world around me — good and bad, pretty and ugly, happy and sad. And I am reveling in all the beauty I see, even the beauty of despair. Because, when we can be open enough to feel despair, to FEEL that we need to ask strangers for help … then maybe, just maybe, someone will SEE our pain and guide us to a better place.
Try it. Go forth into your lives and try to SEE. There are people out there that are desperate to be seen. It doesn’t have to be a homeless person. It might be the person working behind the register at your local the grocery store. It might be the teenager living next door that is being bullied. It might be the single mom who is a receptionist at your office. Hell, it might even be YOU.
Go forth and SEE. SEE and be SEEN. Don’t just look. It very well may start a transformation in your life too.