Toorak Uniting Church

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"Seeing" and "not seeing", Things we cannot see

Luke 16: 19 – 31
Rev. Robert McUtchen
26 Sepember 2010

Frustrating moments in life.

  1. Looking for something and walking back and forth past it three times before you see it there right in front.

  2. Looking for something and its in your hands all the time.

  3. Being the Officer in Charge at Ringwood court about 25 years ago, and discovering a marijuana plant was growing in the garden by the front steps for several months, being passed daily by countless police officers before it was identified.

We sometimes cannot see the obvious, even when it is right there in front of us. Today another parable, about a rich man who failed to see the beggar at his door. A few words about the text:

  1. In Judaism wealth was usually understood as a blessing and reward for a good life. Poverty was the reverse – a judgement upon a sinful life. Jesus reverses this paradigm in the next life – now the rich man is suffering, the beggar lies in Abraham’s bosom. Is it meant to be a subtle fulfilment of the sermon on the mount – Blessed are the poor, woe to you who are rich? By now we might be getting used to Jesus message that the Kingdom of heaven often reverses elements of what we imagine is the status quo.

  2. Lazarus is not seen – he is ignored, although at the gate. The rich man fails to see him, although he is always there, always hungry, always covered with sores and filth. He could have done so much – fed him, treated his sores, dressed him. The rich man is indicted for his failure to see him, or act for him.

  3. Dogs lick his sores – anything more calculated to turn the stomach? Mid East scholar Kenneth Bailey wrote dog saliva is supposed to be antiseptic and there was a place where large numbers of dogs were kept and would lick people with skin diseases, for they were known to improve the patients health. But is there another message here? Contrast - unlike the rich man, even dogs minister to him and treat his sores.

  4. In death the Rich man "sees" Lazarus for the first time, but even then he acts with the same arrogance he did in life. Implied contrast – textually, when Jesus "sees", an act of compassion follows. This sequence of seeing, having compassion, and acting is a common one in the Gospels. In Luke 7:13 Jesus "saw" the woman weeping at the death of her only son, he "had compassion for her" and brought her son to life. When the father "saw" the prodigal son "still far off… he was filled with compassion" and ran and embraced him (Luke 15:20)

  5. Even then Rich man does not get it. And we begin to understand further why he was judged and sent to the nether world. He continues the assumed superiority of his former life - regards Abraham as an equal, and Lazarus as inferior – "send him" - - once to bring water, secondly to warn the living. Blind in life, blind in death.

We should not presume that this parable is critical of the rich, and a promise that the poor will have a better time in the life to come. The offence here is not the rich man’s wealth, but his lack of mindfulness, his state of mind. The warning is the consequences for anyone who falls into the same mindset.

Mindfulness is not a primary concern for many Christians . In Buddhism it is part of the Eight fold path. Right Mindfulness is a principle of staying aware of what you are doing at all times. By staying mindful of body, feelings and mind, it is easier to keep doing what is right and avoid doing what is wrong.

Becoming mindful of what is happening around us can make a difference to the way we live. Baden Powell encouraged his Scouts to do this. Told two stories – one of the day he was caught out of bounds at school, and had no where to go but up a tree. His friend was sure they wd be caught – BP told him to sit on the branch and stay silent. The teacher walked directly beneath them – he did not see them because you do not expect to find boys up a tree. Or the man whose mare was tied to a tree near a crocodile infested river. He heard her whinnying every so often – when he went to untie her he almost taken by the croc which had killed her, and was waiting where she had been tied – he did not expect to see a croc, so did not recognise it.

The parable tells us that we may encounter the kingdom in the unexpected place.

There is visual awareness, of the physical world. Ask yourself how mindful you are of your surrounds – at home, in the neighbourhood. How aware of what your partner wears today.

Awareness of what people say to us – do we look and listen with eyes, ears and heart when we are in conversation? Training in pastoral conversation is part of training for ministry – learning to listen to the spoken and unspoken clues that communicate that another person is worried about something and wants to talk. Learning how to encourage them to give expression to sometimes deep and tangled emotions. When you ask how someone is, are you really listening for their response? If you hear something unexpected, how will you deal with it?

Then there is awareness of who we are. The rich man had a distorted awareness of his own importance. Presumed he was an equal with Abraham, presumed that Lazarus was servant and messenger. Who was he to presume? Gently ask how we respond to others - as an equal, conferring on every one dignity, as one for whom any request granted is a personal favour and honour. Mahatma Ghandi adopted the dhoti, attire of the poorest in India, as part of his pursuit of a simple life. Bert Bailey in the 1940 film Dad Rudd MP, after confronting a landed snob, tells the butler to "Call my tram". Awareness that attributes true meaning and value to righteousness, godliness, faith, love endurance and and gentleness.

Jesus wants more of us than just humility. The parable is an invitation to live in mindfulness that allows us to truly "see", as Jesus saw in so many instances. To "see" the truth of our own situation, and stop living in the delusion of the rich man in the parable, but rather that we are creatures so greatly loved by a wonderful creator. To see as the letter to Timothy reminded us, that with the basics in life we can truly be "rich" in the things that matter. To "see" that the Kingdom of God appears unexpectedly and challenges our comfortable existence by opening our eyes to the plight of the less fortunate; and then, in a Christ like way, to move from "seeing" to compassionate action.

May God help us to truly "see" what is in us and about us, and may that change our living. Amen.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2010


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