Knowing the nobody as somebody

25 September 2022 26th Sunday Year C

It’s easy enough to be invisible in our society, just be poor. We often don’t see the outsiders, who become the nobodies, and then, quite literally, we remove them from our sight – to cheap motels, to grotty boarding houses, to the edges of our cities, to Christmas Island, while not forgetting those who lie at our gates in what we call the ‘Third World’: out of sight so they might all be kept out of mind.

We see them differently in this week’s gospel where the nobody is revealed as a somebody. Lazarus lies at the rich man’s gate, hoping for a few crumbs from his table, but the rich man doesn’t see him. His lifestyle doesn’t allow for Lazarus, though we often see him on our streets, occasionally thinking if I give him something he’ll probably spend it on alcohol or drugs.

We’re more familiar with the rich man because he resembles us, even if we think who me, rich? No way. At least he doesn’t call the police to come and move Lazarus on, which is a reminder that he’s not simply self-serving and Lazarus isn’t necessarily virtuous, but that’s not the point of the parable: it’s that the rich man simply doesn’t acknowledge his existence.

Then Lazarus dies and is taken up to heaven, finding a home in Abraham’s bosom and, soon after, the rich man dies and finds himself in Hades. The nobody is seen as a somebody and vice versa. In torment the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus, whom he now acknowledges by name, with a little water to cool him, and when Abraham replies it’s impossible, the rich man says, then send him to warn his five brothers, but Abraham says, let them listen to Moses and the prophets and if they won’t, then someone rising from the dead isn’t going to convince them.

They certainly won’t listen to the prophet Amos, an outsider himself, who denounces the self-absorbed well-to-do, who are so caught up in their lifestyles that they’re blinded to the needs of the poor. Nor will they sing the psalm of God’s love for all those cast out, those whom scripture says we must care for. This applies as much to the Pharisees to whom the parable is addressed, as it does to us, because we’re prone to the same satisfactions, the same reluctance to change our lives.

At a weekly café run by a nearby parish, lunch is provided for anyone who comes, and so they all sit down together to eat, visitors and helpers, for a moment recognising there’s no more them and us, there’s simply us: it’s a moment of grace. And when we’re able to be with the poor, the outsiders, the nobodies, and know them as somebodies, we’ll begin to know Jesus Christ as Paul speaks of him at the end of the second reading, making real on earth God’s unending love.

Damian Coleridge

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