(Luke 16: 19-31 / Jeremiah 32: 1-3a, 6-15)
Jesus tells another colourful parable, which shines a spotlight on the problem of hostility and divisiveness in human nature and human society:
… that we live in a divided, violent, and hostile world…
And we see how that division runs counter to the vision of the peaceable reign of God, where all of creation experiences a kind of harmony and care amidst diversity.
Illustrated in the parable Jesus tells this morning is the division between the rich and the poor, brought into sharp contrast between the rich man dressed “in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day”, and the destitute and desperately hungry man Lazarus, who, as the text describes in disturbing detail, was “covered with sores” … which dogs would come and “lick”.
And what makes this division even more pronounced is the failure of the rich man to even see, or notice, or act upon, the reality of poor man Lazarus, who lived “right under the rich man’s nose”, practically in his gate, in plain sight…. but nevertheless overlooked, ignored.
This failure to see, and fully consider the presence and story of another human being, leads to the worst misperceptions, characterizations and stereotypes of others, and often to further division and hostility.
Others become “objects”, an “it” … and in the process, de-humanized, and cast aside.
Fear compounds this division – fear of the “other”, fear of the unknown, of the unfamiliar, of the different – further widening the separation and avoidance of the other.
There’s a story in the Hindu scriptures (the Vedas), of a man entering a darkened room.
To his horror, he sees what looks like a snake coiled in a corner, ready to strike.
Though full of terror at the prospect of a venomous snake ready to strike, he fights the urge to flee, and instead, moves toward the snake to examine it.
Upon a closer look, the specter is discovered to be nothing but a harmless coil of rope.
Jesus’s parable in today’s Gospel text calls us to “take a closer look,” at others, even though we may initially have a fear, or hesitancy.
To pay attention.
To not simply pass people by, hurrying forward, but instead, to stop, pause, look them in the eye, and chat with them, listen to their stories.
To see them with fresh, new eyes.
A true story of a certain couple, Richard and Diana, who moved into a “typical” North American middle-class neighbourhood in the suburbs of an ordinary, mid-size city.
They bought a decent house built in the early 1960s which they could afford, on a very modest street, within a reasonable commute to their places of work.
In her journaling, Diana admitted that she wasn’t entirely happy with the choice.
The house certainly wasn’t her “dream” house.
For a time, she referred to it as the “people parking garage”, merely a stopping station to come to, and go from.
And while she tried to be a good neighbour – mowing the lawn, being relatively quiet, taking out the garbage – she confessed she thought of her own neighbourhood as an “it.”
Until a particular day, and a particular conversation with someone.
A cab driver was bringing Diana home from the airport one day.
He was a nice guy, a Sikh immigrant, talkative about his faith and love for being in North America.
As they turned into her subdivision, he said, “What a beautiful neighbourhood!”
“What?” she asked, astonished.
She’d always been seeing the flaws - the siding that needs to be replaced, gardens in need of tending, and houses, like hers, with outdated kitchens, bathrooms too small, and bulging closets.
“Look at these tidy houses!” he said. “Everyone in the whole world should live on a street like this! I bet you have nice neighbours! This is everyone’s dream, to grow up in a place like this! You are so lucky!”
The taxicab driver saw her neighbourhood more clearly that she did.
From then on, she became determined to see, not only her neighbourhood, but her world differently, with more appreciation, gratitude, and compassionate care, for not only those who lived within the houses of that middle-class neighbourhood, but those who weren’t, those around the world who had far less than she.
For example, she began taking long walks around the neighbourhood, noticing things she didn’t before, praying for people in the homes and those she met on her walks, chatting with them, not just passing them by.
She began to realize that her neighbourhood wasn’t just a suburban parking lot.
The houses were not objects, not an “it.”
They were instead dynamic places of life, where families, like her own, lived through the sometimes happy and sometimes challenging stages of life, playing out all sorts of joys and sorrows, successes and failures.
The neighbourhood came alive, no longer an “it”, but a “thou.”
Jesus calls us to see with new eyes, to regard each other as precious creations of the same God who loves inexhaustibly and superabundantly.
Jesus calls us to see his own self in the eyes of the other, in the eyes of those who suffer, of those who laugh, of those who share of their wisdom and personality.
One could say that for Diana, that taxicab driver was Christ.
God’s reign of the peaceable kingdom,
… where the rich men and the poor Lazaruses of the world really do see each other, and enter into relationships of care and respect,
… where justice and goodness and right relations between and among the diversity of people prevail,
…That kingdom is coming, whether we realize it or not, whether we work for it, or not.
A final note on the first reading, from Jeremiah, where we see in the prophet his ability to “see” and envision God’s future reign.
According to ancient Jewish land ownership laws, land could only be sold to a family member; and Jeremiah was next in line for a certain plot of land near Jerusalem.
And so, he buys this plot of land.
But the amazing thing about it, is that he buys it in the midst of a military siege.
The Babylonian army is basically over-running, destroying, pillaging the city of Jerusalem.
In the midst of this terrifying violence, chaos and despair, Jeremiah faithfully and courageously carries out this seemingly mundane business transaction.
And he does so basing everything on his quiet hope and trust in God, that ultimately the future belongs to God, who will eventually restore and heal the world.
In the midst of despair and destruction, Jeremiah sees something different, and acts on it.
May we see, and do, the same.