A man went to visit in a home where there were several children, and, trying to relate to the kids, he asked one of the girls about her doll collection. “Which is your favorite doll?” he asked. “Promise not to laugh if I tell you?” she questioned. He promised not to laugh, and the little girl got up, went into another room, and brought back a worn-out, tattered doll that looked like a refugee from the trash pile. There was a crack in the arm, a missing nose, marks all over the body and a bald head. The man did not laugh, but unable to hide his surprise, he asked, “Why do you love this one the most?” She replied, “Because she needs it most. If I didn’t love her, nobody would.”
The two men in the gospel parable were not total strangers. Since the poor man Lazarus sat at the rich man’s gate, they had to have seen each other at least in passing. But, the rich man chose to be blind to the man there in front of him, suffering and in terrible need. To care for him would not involve much of his time or resources – he was rich, he could hire people to do it for him. He was not cruel to the man. He just pretended he was not there.
The part of the story that makes us all nervous is that God holds him responsible not for acts done, but for acts left undone. That is because God does not only present us with loveable people to be loved, with attractive people to draw our attention. He often places us in situations that are uncomfortable, with people we do not like or even with those we judge to not be worthy of our attention. It is easier to pretend we are not responsible, or that we do not see that there is something we can do to bless someone in need.
When our home has that uneasy atmosphere because we are angry over something someone did, we can just let them be uncomfortable, wondering what they can say or do that will be worthy of our forgiveness. Or, we can make the first step, choose to forgive them, put the offense aside and move on.
There are times when someone needs to be the one to take leadership – it might be on a project at school or work, or in our organization, or in getting the family to take on helping a neighbor. It is easy to sit there silently and decide someone else can take care of it. But, as we decide to offer our time and energy, we open the door to allow others to join us in accomplishing something that would be left undone without us.
Life is hard to manage for many people. We all know someone who is lonely and wants to talk. We often have to deal with a person who thinks they are the wisest and most important. There are people down on their luck who cannot seem to take care of their needs without the kindness of others. Our temptation is to pretend we do not see these inconvenient people in need. But, if we don’t love them, perhaps no one will. It doesn’t cost us much to share some time, to give a few dollars, to respect the human need in them for understanding and attention that we also have.
We should not forget that this parable doesn’t involve just the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man has five brothers still making the decisions in life on which they will one day be judged by God. And the point of the parable is that they don’t need to be given dramatic signs and warnings in order to know what needs to be done. They, like us, already know what is expected. God is always presenting new opportunities to share his love with others, to care for others, to share the blessings he has given us. But only we can decide to give. And how we decide has eternal consequences!
– Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk