The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is at one level a cautionary tale. As we muse on it, letting God’s word inform our lives, we are brought to the understanding that the beggar at our doors is our responsibility. This can be any doors: the doors to our nation, our community, our homes, or our hearts. We are called to unlock, open up, to be in relationship, and to give generously.
Underlying, though, is an issue of who we believe ourselves to be. The mindset that keeps us distant from one another is a root cause of ignoring one another.
It has come home to me this morning that I am deeply enmeshed in my identity as a white, lesbian, able-bodied, middle-class, US citizen with a home. This is how I think of myself. I have the expectations and the fears of someone in this socio-economic class, this geographic location, this variation of physical functioning, human genetics and gender identity. And Lazarus is profoundly different from me – so different I can never understand him.
How do I bridge THAT chasm? Maybe that is the important one, the one that truly needs to be healed before I die.
Do you know, it is only because I was born in the right place and time that I enjoy the privileges I have! It is chance alone that separates me from Lazarus. It really is. Lazarus, given my circumstances, would likely be gainfully employed, well respected, and in the position of having to decide what he would give to the beggars at his door. Thinking of all the accidents of privilege that have given me a leg up in the world as part of who I truly am is taking on a false identity.
So, who are we? For years I have blithely mouthed the words, “We are children of God. That is our true identity.” Today I am hearing those sentences a little differently. “Warn my brothers,” the rich man begs Abraham. But the man who spent his life at the rich man’s gate is also his brother. We are brothers and sisters.
When I stand before Christ, I am naked, no longer wrapped in the identity chance has given me. Who am I? I am tempted to say that I am an artist, a writer, a lover of humans. I am speaking of my skill-sets now, the ones I have been allowed to develop. Who is Lazarus? Perhaps he’s a philosopher or a scientist, an architect or a nurse. Perhaps he never had the opportunity to develop these skills. Maybe he did, and did well in his chosen field(s), only to have some turn of fate whisk them away from him.
“Who is my family?” Jesus asked the crowds one day. He answers his own question: “They who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”
Who am I? I am Laurie Gudim, unique child of God. And Lazarus is Lazarus, my beloved brother.
Jesus, Beloved, help us to see beyond the illusory identities with which we have been saddled to our true nature: unique children of God, hearing the word of God and practicing it, valuable and loved, brothers and sisters to all. Amen.
Illustrations to ‘The Parables of Our Lord’, engraved by the Dalziel Brothers, The Rich Man and Lazarus