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Terrance KleinSeptember 21, 2022
Photo: Michael Matlon/UnsplashPhoto: Michael Matlon/Unsplash

A Reflection for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7   1 Timothy 6: 11-16   Luke 16: 19-31

How could he have failed to see? That’s the question begged by Christ’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man. How could someone not see a poor man, at his door, covered in sores?

In placing the focus upon what the rich man fails to see, more than on what he fails to do, our Lord also asks us, “What is in front of you that you fail to see? Why can’t you see it?”

Ludwig Wittgenstein insisted that a picture can hold us captive. Like St. Thomas Aquinas before him, the philosopher was saying that we never know the world directly, as God does. We only know it by way of concepts, mental pictures of the way things are. That is the way our mind works. Pick any topic and what comes to mind? Pictures.

So, let’s go back to the parable’s desperately begged question: How could the rich man not see? What pictures of himself and his life went through his head that the obvious eluded him? In attempting to answer that question, we interrogate ourselves. How do our concepts, our limited mental pictures, keep us from seeing what is right in front of us? For example, how is it so easy to see the sins, the flaws of another, and not see the reason, the shining purpose, for which God created that person?

James Parker currently closes each issue of The Atlantic with small meditations, insightful perspectives on everyday life. In the April issue of this year, he wrote of encountering a beggar on the street.

Awkward, isn’t it? The system of which you are a functioning part has thrown the person before you into a transparent condition of penury and exile. Perhaps you feel a flickering of shame. And then a flickering of annoyance at the flickering of shame…their hands are out and their tin cups are rattling—why can’t they leave you alone? Affluence is no picnic. You have a prescription to refill, a phone to upgrade, a car to get repaired. This pullulating need—it’s too much.
Here’s my tip: If you’re temperamentally indisposed, keep your money. A penny given a poor man “grudgingly,” wrote the French Catholic mystic Léon Bloy, “pierces the poor man’s hand, falls, pierces the earth, bores holes in suns, crosses the firmament and compromises the universe.” So don’t do that.
But if you are inclined to give, then give wholeheartedly. Not for charity, not for empathy, not for any groaning abstraction, but that the divine economy of giving might circulate through you unobstructed. Through your glands and through your veins. The person before you needs money, and you need to give it. Unplug the wellspring of life, and hand it over.

Christ told a parable. Parker reminds us of a recurring incident in our own lives. Both want us to ask ourselves, how is it that we fail to see and to respond? What grace must come, and by what means, for us to see more of the world as it truly is? What Christ in a pretty picture holds us captive, keeping us from seeing the Christ covered in sores in front of us?

More: Scripture

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