Reverend Amy Busse
United Presbyterian Church
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table…”
Luke 16:19-21a, the Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version
I got a taste of being invisible a few days ago. The Shawnee High School Genesians (drama club), to which both my daughter and son belong, held a car wash fundraiser for their one act play. I was the first parent to chaperone that afternoon, and my job was to stand in the grass by Kickapoo, holding up a large sign that proclaimed “Car Wash!”
That was a harder job than it sounds. It was hot. I made sure to use sunscreen, but that didn’t seem to block the sun’s rays completely. Holding up your arms and waving them about for an hour or so is exhausting. I work out, but still! Yet this particular duty allowed me to observe drivers from a different perspective. Some folks would look at me and read the sign. But if I caught their eye, they would quickly look away. Some folks were avidly talking on their phones and paid no attention to me or anyone else, for that matter. Some people were driving and texting. Please stop that! And a few people would smile and acknowledge that I was there. Their acknowledgment did not mean they stopped and got their car washed, but that was okay. I appreciated them seeing me.
That’s what I mean about being invisible. Because I was close to a stoplight, people would pull up beside me and have to sit waiting for the light to change. I was standing mere feet from their car, but they stared straight ahead, as though I were not there at all; as though I were invisible. Feeling unseen was awkward and uncomfortable for me. It pushed me way beyond my comfort zone. But I have decided that experiencing that discomfort was a blessing. Because the truth is, I’m usually the one sitting in the car.
How many times have I been stopped at a red light and at the corner stands a person with a sign asking for food, money or help? My answer is more times than I can count. In those uncomfortable moments, I am grateful for sun glasses. They hide the fact that I see that person, but that I’m trying to pretend I don’t. I’m not proud of this. Every time, I wait for the light to change I wrestle with my conscience.
“What should I do? Should I offer them some money? Look at how much I have. I’m a pastor, shouldn’t I model generosity? Is this a scam? Even if it is, that does not mean the person is not desperate and in need. If this is their way of making a living, it is a rough occupational choice.”
More often than not, when the light changes I drive on, leaving the person behind – seen by me, but not seen. They might as well be invisible.
It would seem that Lazarus was invisible to the rich man. Lazarus lay at his gate, but he was not seen. The rich man did not acknowledge him, did not offer to help him. I imagine that the man walked right by Lazarus. The rest of the story tells us that Lazarus died and was taking to heaven by angels. The rich man also died, but instead of heaven he went to Hades. He was tormented in the flames, saw Abraham and Lazarus together, and begged Abraham to let Lazarus dip his finger in some cool water and put it to the man’s parched tongue. Abraham refused. The rich man had abundance of riches and good things in life, while Lazarus did not. However in the life after life, it was Lazarus’ turn.
I know that first instinct tells us to see this story as a warning for those of us wanting to avoid Hell’s flames. If we do not want to go to Hades, then we need to take care of others while we can. I do believe we need to take care of others here on earth. But I don’t believe my motivation for doing this should be solely to avoid consequences for myself. I think my call is to help people whose lives are hell on earth now.
So what will I do the next time I’m at a stoplight and someone is standing on the corner with a sign? Will I help? Will I stare straight ahead? One thing I know for sure, that person will never be invisible to me again.