Clean your glasses: Seeing those in need
I heard something kind of funny last week about our eyesight changing. When I visited a family member, there was a cartoon clipping on the refrigerator that read, “I don’t stress about my eyesight failing as I get older. It’s God’s way of protecting me from shock as I walk past the mirror.”
Eyesight is something we sometimes need to protect us from the world, and apparently from ourselves.
Jesus suggested that we have spiritual eyesight too. He put a spiritual spin on it and said, "He who has eyes, let him see God at work in the world."
Sometimes our vision gets distorted with trash, dust, or fog, and we can't see what’s around us. That’s when we need to clean our glasses and notice the needs of others.
I read a story along these lines that fascinated me. There was a man in the early 1900s who held three doctoral degrees; The first in medicine, the second in theology, and the third in philosophy. People also recognized him as one of the best organists in Europe and held a prestigious professorship in Vienna, Austria.
But that man had eyes to ser. Something persuaded him to give up the culture, amenities, and comforts, of a sophisticated life, and go to Africa to build hospitals and preach the Gospel of mercy. The man was Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
What convinced him to go to Africa? This parable. It changed his life and focused his eyes on the needs of a continent and not European amenities. When he thought about the message behind the rich man and Lazarus, he realized that Africa was the beggar at the gate of Europe.
The results were that millions received medical care and their eyes opened to the compassion of Christ.
When we change our vision, our vision changes our lives. My sermon today is around the idea that we need to clean our glasses and do it often.
A story? about having eyes that see the world around us.
I’ve heard this parable preached as a reminder not to love our possessions more than our neighbors. Yes, that's good. But I don’t think this parable is about money. Money is often a metaphor Jesus used for things that control us. I think it’s about how two lives can exist at once: the natural life, and the spiritual life. And they often look very different.
Many of Jesus’s stories revolve around two or three central characters. Each character usually teaches a spiritual lesson.
First, we meet a rich man. Life was kind to him. He wore tailored Zegna suits. His wine cellar held treasures from the Bordeaux region of France. The personal chef cooked bone-in filet to a perfect medium-rare. He even lived in an exclusive community with guards at the gates
Even though his life was comfortable, his eyes were blind to a man who sat outside the gate. The man was the beggar, Lazarus. He was poor, and he lived with a terminal illness. Jesus said he was so weak that he welcomed dogs to lick his wounds. Lazarus suffered! His hunger was so cruel that he wanted the stale breadcrumbs from the rich man’s floor.
Then the parable shifted the scene. The rich man was on the outside the gate, and Lazarus lived in paradise. This time his glasses were not cloudy. Misfortune and hardships cleared his eyesight.
The beggar he knew was no longer a beggar. He wasn’t sick, he wasn’t homeless, and he wasn’t in rags either. He even stood beside Abraham, the father of the Jewish people.
It's another example of how pride keeps people from admitting they need God. It's not about money; it’s about holding to things so tightly they become a substitute for God.
When it mattered most, the rich man held to his luxury and paid for it with torment. Abraham told him, “You had comforts and luxuries in one area of life, but spiritually you’re in torment.”
This story about seeing others with the eyes of the heart.
One way to understand this lesson is how God looks at the heart. Ultimately, the parable condemns the man. That begs the question of why?
Money and possessions are not inherently evil. Money, donations, tithe, generosity, and talent build children’s hospitals, fund churches to continue the message of Jesus, and train people in developing countries to plant and farm their food.
We should hope that money isn't evil because, on a worldwide scale, all of us are wealthy. The parable is not about the rich man's wealth. There were two types of sickness in the parable. Lazarus had physical conditions, but the wealthy man had something much worse: heart failure.
My psychological background would say that he suffered a form of egocentrism. The problem with narcissism is it blinds those who have it. It turns glasses into mirrors. The lenses that should increase sight did the opposite, focuses the picture back on itself.
He had a disease of the eye and the heart. He squandered his ability to have compassion for those who were less fortunate because he preferred mirrors instead of windows.
His sinfulness didn’t stop there. He accepted that inequality was a reasonable condition of life. There was a socioeconomic gulf between himself and Lazarus. He saw no reason to clean his glasses and look across the tracks at race relations, healthcare, poverty, and women’s equality.
I heard a story about a military chaplain who tried to take equality seriously. He knew the wage gap between women and men in the same jobs was .77 to $1.00. So, as the story goes, the chapel community had a cookie sale as a fundraiser at the Base Exchange. He made a sign that said, “Considering the wage gap, cookies are $1 for gentlemen, and .77 for ladies.”
The rich man inside of us always says, “That’s just the way life is, we can’t do anything about it.”
But when people see how we deliberately find ways to be kind to Lazarus, it cleans their glasses. We call that evangelism by example.
In 1955 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached this parable at Dexter Ave. Baptist Church in Montgomery. He said,
“The rich man’s sin was not that he was cruel to Lazarus, but that he refused to bridge the gap of misfortune that existed between them.”
He went on to say,
“The rich man is the wealth thirsty capitalist who never seeks to bridge the economic gulf between self and laborer because he feels that it is natural for some to live in inordinate luxury while others live in abject poverty.”
In my words, “We should open our eyes to Lazarus.”
When we find Jesus in the Gospels, he's usually telling stories that encourage people to love God, love their sisters and brothers, help the poor, befriend the outcast, and never… ever… permit self-righteous religious people to tell you you're not good enough for God.
We need clear vision to see the world around us, but we also need clear vision to see how much God cares for us, loves us, and invites us to become people transformed through that love.
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