Closing the Divides

Lazarus-Rich-Man…between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.…”  Such are words spoken about Lazarus and the rich man, traditionally known as Dives. The words describe their fates in the afterlife: Lazarus comforted by Abraham while Dives languishes in a hellish afterlife.

But here is the thing – the chasm really wasn’t new; it was fixed a long time ago and made wider every time the rich man came and went to his safe, secure and plush home and ignored Lazarus. Don’t get me wrong, this parable indeed talks about the eternal consequences of the life we lead, but it is also about our lives now. And maybe, just maybe, St. Luke has been talking to us about the chasms, the great divides we have slowly built into our lives – and our failure to see them in the here and now.

The first reading today was from the Book of Amos. Everything about Amos is a clarion call for people to see the great divide that is being created. Amos lived more than 700 years before Jesus in a time when the nation of Israel was divided, north against south. Amos travels from his home in the south, crossing the great divide of his time, in order to call people back to unity with God and each other. As you might expect he is not too successful in his mission.

Amos is speaking to the North in a time when they are spectacularly prosperous during the reign of a king named Jeroboam II. The people believe things are good, Jeroboam has made them great again. They are with him. But Amos points out the hallow prosperity that is creating divides and rifts in their lives.  He boldly indicts kings, priests, leaders, merchants in the market with their crooked scales, and all who build the divide between “us and them.” Amos calls on them to look around and to see the great divide being created – and then to respond to them with justice. Amos is very clear: religion without justice is an affront to God – and perhaps asking them to see and understand these divides that exist now are a measure of the affront to God and a precursor to the afterlife. Our first reading is not so different from our Gospel. We are called to cross the chasms, the great divides in our lives.

Many have said that the rich man’s sin that condemns him to his fiery fate is that he never even notices the poor man.  Perhaps, …although he does seem to know Lazarus’ name when it suits his purpose. I would suggest the sin writ large is that the rich man lacks empathy.

It is this lack of empathy which makes him blind and deaf to the presence of Lazarus, unaware of the dignity that God gave Lazarus. Makes him blind and deaf to the words of the prophet Amos and all the prophets who proclaim the measure of anyone of us, the measure of all of us is the manner in which we treat the widow, the orphan, the poor, the alien, and the stranger among us. It is the lack of empathy which is the disease affecting the rich man’s heart, that condemns him to his fiery fate.

Is it the disease we each carry in our own hearts? Is it the disease which keeps us deaf and blind to those around us in everyday life.  Is it that which keeps us spectator? Spectator when there are people whose life calls out to us, for us to enter into their life, if but for a moment, for a touch, a smile, a word, being the presence of Christ in that single moment. To be empathic is to be a conduit of the love of God into the world, to be for one moment the light of Christ in the world.

The Cleveland Clinic has a wonderful video on YouTube about empathy. If I could show it in place of this homily I surely would. There is no spoken word.  There are simply single moments of people at the hospital – moments that call us to be aware, to connect – even if only silently in prayer.

  • The man entering the hospital dreading his appointment… fearing he has waited too long
  • Another, his wife’s surgery was successful… and he is going home to rest
  • He just discovered he is going to be dad
  • A women sitting with an IV drip, a thousand mile stare…. On day 29 waiting for a new heart
  • A couple in the cafeteria, their son on life support
  • He just heard the news that his tumor is benign
  • A woman too shocked to understand her treatment options
  • A mom and daughter heading down the hall…. She is going to see her dad for the last time
  • This one is cancer free for seven years
  • Waiting for a consult. … they saw “something” on her mammogram
  • Going home from surgery … pain free for the first time in years

These are single moments of life during a day in a hospital. It could have been your home, your place of work, play or any single moment of life during your day. Moments that call us to connect – even if only silently in prayer; to connect in the home, the workplace, high school, at a friend’s house, on a date, texting on your cell phone, video chatting, posting on your social network – everywhere you encounter people.

We are busy.  We are on a schedule. Time is limited. Our patience is stretched. We are preoccupied. God calls us to be none of those things.  We are called to love God and our neighbor. We are called to the empathic life in grace. To be mindful of people whose life calls out to us, to enter into their life, if but for a moment, for a touch, a smile, a tear, a word, being the presence of Christ in that single moment. Empathy is that which bridges the chasms in our life.

This is the start of how we love God and our neighbors as our self.  Amen.

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