Who do we see? How do we see them?
These two questions frame our Christian walk, and are central to our readings from Jeremiah and Luke.
Our Gospel reading gives us the fairly straightforward parable of Lazarus and the rich man.
The rich man is well-dressed, well-fed, lives in a palatial setting and has all the comforts of this world. And each day, as he passes Lazarus, lying outside his gate, he sees only a wretch. A poor beggar, despised by the world — a thing to step over, on his path of wealth and ease.
The rich man was incapable of seeing Lazarus because he was blinded by his wealth. He had come to trust entirely in himself and his worldly possessions.
The prophet Jeremiah, in today’s reading, has a warning for us, lest we fall into a similar trap: “Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.”
The rich man’s heart was turned away from God because of his focus on his wealth. He had come to worship his own ease and power. What comes next isn’t God’s punishment. It’s the rich man’s own punishment, brought down on himself by himself, by turning his back on God.
“They shall be like a shrub in the desert,” Jeremiah tells us, “and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.”
For the rich man, the parched place of the wilderness was Hades — hell.
The rich man was loved by this world, and riches and titles were heaped on him. But, he let those worldly rewards distract him from God. He turned his heart away from God, and became nothing more than a richly-robed bush, planted in salted soil and waiting to blow away.
But, look at Lazarus. What do we see? Do we see a poor wretch? What do we see when we look at the homeless, the poor, the forgotten and lonely?
Jesus tells us in Luke these are the people of deep roots, described by Jeremiah: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”
These have “deeper roots” — deeper faith — not because of their poverty, but because they have no wealth to blind them. The rich man could not see God, and could not see Lazarus, not because he was wealthy, but because he allowed his wealth to blind him.
These two examples call us to fundamentally shift how we see the world around us, how we see ourselves, and how we see our neighbors.
Everything about our society tells us to see and judge based on material wealth. But, no matter how much money we have, it will fade. No matter how much wealth surrounds our bodies, our bodies too will fade.
If we see these things as the source and meaning of our worth, our lives will be defined by increasing stress, as we see the flesh — literally and figuratively — fade away around us.
But, Christ calls us to see with different eyes — to see with the eyes of the Holy Spirit.
When we look through these eyes, the rich man and Lazarus — ourselves and the most humble beggar on the street — are one and the same.
We all are made by Christ in the image of God. Nothing about our bodies, our wealth, our status or the decline or lack of any of these things, can add to or diminish our true selves.
When we begin to see ourselves and those around us with the eyes of the Spirit, we see Christ in all — in the homeless and wealthy; in the sick and well; young and old; in the pillar of society and the worst of criminals. We begin to see Christ in ourselves, and in that presence, to see and serve Christ in all others.
In a world ruled by the rich man, we see Christ, who, in the words of the Magnificat, “has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly.”
We see Christ exalting and serving Lazarus. And we are called to do the same.
Lord Christ, help us to see with the eyes of the Holy Spirit. Help us to see you in all around us, and seeing you in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, lonely, marginalized and forgotten, let us fall down in humility to serve you, and to love you by loving them. Amen.