You’re walking down the street, and pass a person who appears poor or homeless?
What do you do?
This decision can be stressful for some. Yet when I see someone sitting in the streets, I try to remember that whatever has brought them there, whatever they may do with the money I offer, that’s none of my business.
When Christ tells me to give to those who ask, I take Him at His word.
My involvement with FOCUS’s incredible YES Program has also taught me that offering money to someone is not the only thing Christians are called to do in interactions with our poor neighbors.
I have learned, again and again, that there is great power in simply having a conversation, in sitting with someone and learning their name.
Though I’m not afraid of meeting people in the streets, I feel the cold, hard grip of fear and guilt every time I hear myself tell my four-year-old daughter, “I’m too busy to play, honey. Maybe later.”
Whether it’s doing house chores or dealing with work responsibilities, telling my little girl that I need to do anything other than simply be with her is just plain awful.
Am I really too busy? Is what I’m doing really that important?
When I reflect on the times I tell her that she’s going to have to wait to play, I can’t help but wonder if I’m completely overlooking a deep need for connection, rather than merely dismissing a desire to play a game. I can’t help but wonder if this is going to have long-lasting repercussions in my relationship with daughter because I can’t pull myself away from whatever it is that I deem so important at the time.
Things which, the overwhelming majority of the time, aren’t important at all.
On Sunday, Christ will tell us a story about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus.
There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. Luke 16:19,20
Of all the details and moments in this story, the fact that Lazarus sits outside of the man’s house, laying at his gate is, by far, the most haunting of them all. More than the poverty, more than the sores, more than the terrifying description of Hades.
What is most haunting to me is that the rich man’s opportunity for kindness, for mercy, for salvation, was so close. And yet he missed it.
I wonder how often I, too, overlook my opportunities for mercy, gentleness, kindness. For salvation.
In this Gospel reading, we see that opportunities to meet the needs of others may be closer than we think. We don’t need to travel internationally. We don’t need to do service projects in some other city, hours away. We don’t even need to go downtown and minister to people there (though if you’re called to do any of these things, do them!).
But we can fall into the trap of turning service into a production, designed to help the stereotypical “other,” and overlooking the possibility that the person who needs us most might be right in front of us, right under our noses.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do any of the things listed above; there is a time and a place for these things, without a doubt. What I’m suggesting is that perhaps our salvation lies in stepping out of ourselves and becoming aware of those right in front of us.
Have you ever noticed that it’s easiest to be most dismissive, most unkind, and most unforgiving to those closest to us? What’s that about?
The rich man only had to look outside his door to find someone who would benefit from a relationship, whose needs he could have begun to meet quite easily. Is it possible that we, too, need only look right outside (or even within) our doors to find those who need us most?
While I’m generally a fan of social media and the “global village” and knowing about Syria and other things across the world, I wonder if all the attention that we place elsewhere has taken our attention away from where we are. It’s great that we can show our support by donating to international humanitarian aid with the click of a button, but what kind of support, relationship, empathy, and care do we offer to those in our own churches? In our own neighborhoods?
In our own homes?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t contribute to international causes. But I am wondering if Christ is trying to jar us into recognizing the daily needs we most easily pass by.
Is it possible that we are overlooking those who need us most? Is it possible that we are neglecting the mundane yet deeply significant things we can do every day and instead focusing exclusively on exciting causes, on trying to “make a difference,” on contenting ourselves with re-posting videos to “raise awareness?”
Do we really think that we are going to meet the needs of our neighbors by changing our profile pictures?
Like far too many people, I’m wrapped up in myself, and I need to be slapped out of it. I need to realize that there are people in my home, in my neighborhood, and in my parish who are in need. And these are the people I can actually touch and care for actively, directly, face-to-face.
God may very well call me to travel around the world or take up a great cause one day. For now, the Lord has put me here, in my life, in my family, in my parish and has asked me to open my eyes to the needs of those in front of me.
When you open your eyes, who do you see?
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on FOCUS, check out this episode of Be the Bee: