This week over at the Ignatian Prayer Adventure we are invited to reflect upon sin. And today's reading and prayer draw us into the story of Lazarus and the rich man.
I was immediately reminded of the contemporary version of this narrative which Michelle posted yesterday, in which she reflects upon her reluctance to engage with the impoverished and homeless of Philadelphia as she makes her way each day toward the lush and accommodating library in which she is spending much pf this semester's sabbatical time.
Michelle ironically entitles her piece "Custody of the Eyes." For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a practice followed in monastic settings, in which individuals avert their eyes as they pass one another, in order that they not disturb or interrupt one another's contemplative orientation. In those circumstances, the connotations of the phrase are positive; it implies a stance of humility toward oneself that prevents one from imposing herself upon another. (It's a practice intuitively followed on silent retreats, in which the customary ways in which we look directly at one another over meals or seek to catch someone's eye while passing in the hallway or out on a walk would be out of place.)
In the contexts of which Jesus then and Michelle now speak, however, custody of the eyes becomes a self-insulating and protective measure rather than a generous and hospitable one. It creates barriers rather than possibilities; it focuses our attention on discomfort rather than on hope.
I found myself wishing that I had had Michelle's piece before me a couple of years ago when, as a student pastor doing her internship in a mainline urban church, I was asked to lead an adult education class for a couple of weeks on the issue of our response to panhandling. The video series that formed our platform had been filmed by a Christian ministry organization and was both sympathetic to the plight of the urban homeless and practical in its response to those who might seek to help them. It did not, however, immerse us in the perspective of Jesus. I recall clearly my feelings of failure when our class sessions were complete; I had done what was requested of me by my superiors, and acquitted myself well enough to earn the necessary positive assessment of my work -- but I had in no way conveyed the priorities of Christ.
And those priorities call us in all situations ~ not just in the interactions of those of us who live financially comfortable lives with those who do not, but in our interactions with all kinds with all people. Lazarus does not necessarily take the shape of a destitute man on the street; his appearance may be quite the opposite. In either case, do we look the other way, change the conversation? Or do we see and reach out?
Lord, so many eyes, including mine, turn from you. How often have I noted that even the slightest glance your way might have altered the course of a conversation, an interaction, a relationship, a life's pursuit, a life itself?
What others do and say ~ that I can ponder and analyze, but it is not for me to judge them. As I observe them, my questions should be: what can I learn? Can I practice and model an alternative? And for myself, the question becomes: Do I?
Image: Lazarus ~ Source Unknown.