Reading: Luke 16: 19-31
When we read stories, we awaken a wise side of ourselves. We better understand ourselves and one another. We better understand the nuances of character and life itself. There are studies that show that people who read stories/novels read faces and feelings and emotions of others better. We see others in ourselves and ourselves in others. We learn compassion and empathy. We learn to see the many sides.
As we read this story, I don’t really want to be anyone in this story. I don’t want to be the poor man suffering in this life, starving and sick. I don’t want to be the rich man suffering in that afterlife. Although I might argue that the rich man is suffering in this life as well. I can not imagine that he was truly happy in life. PAUSE. He was maybe just more comfortable in his suffering.
Our defense mechanisms are awakened with this story. One defense is to point fingers at the rich man and think that we would never behave in such a way. The other is to gloss over the poor man or to pity him as someone who is worse off than us. Another is to pride ourselves on what we would do if we were in the same situation as the rich man. Or pride ourselves that we would never be that poor.
Stories give us opportunities not to avoid, but to explore. Who are we in the story? And why might we be like each of the people in the story? In most stories we are a little bit of everyone. That’s what makes a great story. We may resonate more with particular characters. We may avoid the mirror held up by the “bad” characters, or the scary, ugly ones. We may try to emulate the “good” characters. This is an interesting story, because if we’re honest, we don’t really want to be either of the men. PAUSE Maybe the angel.
We are the poor man. We have all had times of bleakness, when we have felt alone, desperate, neglected, unseen, unappreciated, unwell, unloved, anxious, ugly, depressed, hopeless, fearful…and it’s human nature to avoid those things that are that uncomfortable to remember or look at. We like pretty and young. Strong and healthy. We like well to do. We like “perfection”. If you don’t believe me, spend some time on social media and in the magazine section of the grocery store. We still like pretty and thin and perfect and we really like money and stuff.
But we have all been the poor man in substance or in spirit. Unless we can come to terms with our own pain and suffering, we cave to fear. Fear that makes us avoid and turn away and become blind to others in need. We can not be of service to one another, or ourselves, if we are blind and fearful. If we don’t see the hand that is there to pull us up. If we don’t see the hand that needs us to pull it up. If we are not practicing, we won’t see what’s asked of us when it is before us. This is the bigger problem with the rich man.
We are also the rich man. I’ll share my own story as “the rich man”. I have a list of good reasons why I don’t give money to the poor on the streets. It’s been ingrained in me to use my “common sense” and to not put myself in danger. You don’t take your wallet out in unfamiliar places. You don’t look away. You maintain “situational awareness”. Especially as a single, female traveler.
I’m also guilty of over-thinking where my money will go if I do give it. I’m guilty of judging. It looks like he’ll just spend it on alcohol. It looks like he could get a job. I think I’ve seen that homeless guy show up at the Club that night all dressed and cleaned.
We don’t want to waste our money. We spend a lot of time worried about our money, even when it’s no longer our money. We get indignant about what other people are doing with our money after we gave it to them. But if we give it away, it’s no longer our money. What happens next with our money is not our concern.
Back to my “safety rules”, which do have a healthy place in travel. I’m not totally obliterating safety and situational awareness. But there is “too safe” or “safe” as an excuse. I watched Where the Crawdads Sing recently and I think my favorite quote was from Mabel when her husband advises her to be careful when she wants to help a little girl in need. She says: “It don’t say that in the Bible. “Be careful. ‘And the King shall answer and say unto then, verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as ye hath done it to the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it to me’…Don’t say about “be careful”. PAUSE. Maybe, I just lack a better travel plan to be kind and of service.
We have to be honest with ourselves. Stories help us. This story is about the deep divide in our lots in life. Poor man’s suffering. Rich man’s suffering. And the judgements we have for both. A small, shallow life devoid of deep love and compassion is another suffering, even if that person is comfortable. Sometimes, I think in this story the rich man’s suffering isn’t about an afterlife punishment at all, but shines a light for us to see on the unseen suffering of selfishness. It reminds us that our job is not to judge or punish or point fingers, but to practice love and to continually change ourselves to be better. And help others to do the same.
It’s not rich versus poor. It’s the lack of Understanding that is the problem in this story. It’s that the rich man does not see, even in death. He is still self focused that he is “better” and that the poor man is “worse”. He still, in death, is blind. He expects that the poor man be sent from heaven to serve him. He expects that the poor man will be sent from heaven to serve his family and warn them.
It’s not that he is a rich man. It is that he is blind and lacks compassion and kindness. He is selfish. Not selfless. He is focused solely on his own comforts to the detriment of others. He does not listen to the stories and lessons and use them to become a Good person. He does not listen to God/Grace to practice love and to continually grow to become a better person. He does not see. He does not hear. That is the problem.
A fun “plot twist” of the story is his saying that if the poor man is sent back, a dead man resurrected, to his family, then they will listen. Then they will be loving and kind and selfless. PAUSE.
Perhaps a warning to us that true joy comes not from money and separation, comfort and luxuries, focusing only on our own pains, but from something deeper. The Mystery beyond. The Mystery right before us.
Perhaps the story isn’t about the characters at all, but about us. How do we, as readers of the story, step in to help from both sides of the deep divides of rich and poor, sick and well, weak and strong? What can we do, in our Quiet Corner, to help all people of Grace?