Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What barriers exist between you and those who live in poverty?

Recently, Jenna, one of our postulants shared the homily of Fr. Austin Fleming with me in which he reflected on the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19(  He challenges us to consider what barriers we allow to exist between the poor and ourselves.  It is so good that I wanted to share it.  So Fr. Austin has agreed to let me post it here.    

He writes:

There are a couple of details missing from the story Jesus tells here,
details that might be important for understanding his message.
For example, the gospel story doesn’t tell us if Lazarus, the poor man,
was lying at the front door or the back door of the rich man’s house.
And that might make a difference.

If Lazarus was hoping to get some scraps from the rich man’s table,
hoping even for a bit of what would be thrown out as garbage,
then it’s likely he was at the back door,
the servants’ door, the workers’ entrance.

On the other hand, 
if he was bold enough to camp outside the front door,
it’s likely that, when the master entered and left his home,
the servants would shoo away Lazarus
and any other riff-raff making a scene at the gate.

In either case, it’s possible that the rich man 
never met Lazarus,
never saw Lazarus,
had no idea that Lazarus was outside his home.

There are so many realities that distance us from the poor.
Some folks choose to live in a gated community
or in a town like Concord where the gates are virtual,
where the price of real estate builds a virtual wall
between us who can afford to live here - and others who can’t.

When I’m in downtown Boston,
I can distance myself from panhandlers begging on the streets
or at intersections and stop lights,
just by keeping my eyes directed straight ahead of me
or staying in conversation with a companion.

There’s also the possibility that I might distance myself from the poor
- even as I give to them.
Sometimes the door, the gate, which keeps me from meeting the poor,
is the check I write to support them.
I give – from a distance.
I do this myself.
In the comfort of my home or office I write a check,
put it in an envelope and send it off
to provide some food for Lazarus, who lives, figuratively,
at my back door or front door,
but out of sight, out of reach, out of touch.

Of course, contributing to sheltering and feeding the poor is clearly
a good, holy, Christian act – without a doubt,
and I wouldn’t discourage anyone, including myself,
from being even more generous in this regard than we already may be.
But I also believe the story Jesus tells here 
calls us to something greater.

Just as there was a chasm between the rich man and Lazarus
in the afterlife,
so was there a gulf between the two in this life.

As much as the stark imagery in Jesus’ words here
may be intended to “scare us out of hell”
it is as at the same time a call for us to bridge the gap now:
to pass through the door, the gate,
that keeps our lives at distance from the lives of the poor.

Over the past six months, in so many ways and so often,
Pope Francis has called us to leave the comfort of our lives
and to walk out to the margins of the church, of society, of the city,
to meet and serve the poor, the ostracized, the forgotten,
the abandoned, the alienated and the rejected.

In fact one of the most appealing features of Pope Francis
is his outreach to those on the margins
and his welcoming them in,  calling them home,
to share the table with us.

Well, it’s not enough for you and me to simply like Pope Francis.
If we truly admire what he’s saying and doing,
we need to look for ways for us to do what he’s doing.

And that might mean checking outside our back doors and front doors,
and the real and virtual gates that protect our comfortability
and it might mean looking beyond the signature line on our checks
to see how we might bridge the gulf, the chasm,
that keeps us at a distance from those most in need,
those on the margins of life.

In this gospel, Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones
to reach out to those in need.

We might leave our homes and go out to serve the poor
in a shelter or at Open Table.

Or we might go out to neighbors, especially older folks,
in need of our friendship, inclusion and warmth.

We might, within our own families, go out to those
whom we’ve ignored or alienated or rejected.

We might, at school, go out to those who are alone,
who are teased and bullied,
who are on the margins of friendship circles and who need a friend.

We might, in our parish, go out and make peace
with that other parishioner with whom we pray here
but to whom we don’t speak.

There is no end to the ways that Jesus bridges the gap, the gulf, 
the chasm that sometimes keeps us from him
and he calls us to do the same for one another.

In the sacrifice of the Cross, Jesus left his comfort zone,
he left all comfort behind – for our sakes –
to bridge the gulf, the chasm, 
between our sins and God’s  merciful grace.
In the sacrament of this altar, in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist,
Jesus feeds us not with a check in the mail,
but with his life, his presence, his Body and Blood.

May the banquet we share at his table today
nourish us to be faithful in serving one another
that one day we might all share together
the banquet of the kingdom of God.

Fr. Austin is a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Boston.  He maintains a daily blog entitled “A Concord Pastor Comments” that reflects on spirituality, and prayer in the Catholic tradition.

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