Summary: We cannot call ourselves Christ-followers if we do not notice, acknowledge, and serve the needy in our midst.
“We have all seen him. He lies on a pile of newspapers outside a shop doorway, covered with a rough blanket. Perhaps he has a dog with him for safety. People walk past him or even step over him. He occasionally rattles a few coins in a tin or cup, asking for more. He wasn’t there when [we were children], but he’s there now, in all our cities, east west, north, and south.
“As I see him, I hear voices. It’s his own fault, they say. He’s chosen it. There are agencies to help him. He should go and get a job. If we give him money he’ll only spend it on drugs. Stay away – he might be violent. Sometimes, in other places, the police will move him on, exporting the problem somewhere else. But he’ll be back. And even if he isn’t, there are whole societies like that. They camp in tin shacks on the edges of large, rich cities. From the door of their tiny makeshift shelters you can see the high-rise hotels and office blocks where, if they’re very lucky, one member of the family might work as a cleaner. They have been born into debt, and in debt they will stay, through the fault of someone…who signed away their rights, their lives in effect, a generation or two ago, in return for arms, a new presidential palace, a fat Swiss bank account. And even if rich and poor don’t always live side by side so blatantly, the television brings us together.
“So we all know Lazarus. He is our neighbor. Some of us may be rich, well dressed and well fed, and walk past him without even noticing; others of us may not be so rich, or so finely clothed and fed, but compared with Lazarus we’re well off. He would be glad to change places with us, and we would be horrified to share his life, even for a day.”
Do we see Lazarus, our neighbor? We can get all uncomfortable about the thought of having to sit at the rich man’s gate and beg like Lazarus, but we can’t even truly grasp the situation until we have simply noticed Lazarus. You see, in this parable, the rich man is not condemned because of his extravagant lifestyle, he is condemned because he did not notice the man at his doorstep; he did not address the need of his neighbor. The truth is, the rich man probably didn’t think twice about allowing Lazarus to eat the scraps from his table. But why would he? It was just bread. “In that time, there were no knives, forks, or napkins. Food was eaten with the hands and, in very wealthy houses, the hands were cleansed by wiping them on chunks of bread, which were then thrown away. That was what Lazarus was waiting for.” Of course the rich man had no trouble sharing that bread with Lazarus! And we could even safely assume that the rich man also gave generously to charity. But he did not see Lazarus. The rich man’s sin was not that he was rich, but that he did not take notice of his neighbor in need. He was too absorbed in himself to see, even to see the man sitting as near as his doorstep.