26th OT C ~ "Waiting at the Gate" ~ Susan McGurgan




He was almost invisible…


The rich man,

snug inside his home,

simply couldn’t be bothered

with every bum or beggar who lounged beside the gate.


The servants,

busy with many things,

no longer even noticed the cripples

who crowded around the door,

or the children holding empty bowls.


In fact,

no one,

not even the guests arriving for the feast

ever really “saw” him.

But as they passed by,

they turned their heads and clutched their robes a little tighter,

determined

to stay clean and undefiled.

Some muttered a prayer of thanksgiving

that they had been spared such a fate.


After all,

a man like that must have done something to lose God’s blessing.

Some sin.

Some evil.

Some great offense.

Something.


We don’t really know what brought him to the rich man’s gate,

alone

and in desperate need.

Maybe he was betrayed by a friend,

or ruined by an ugly scandal.

Maybe the taxes that threatened to crush his land

finally crushed him, too.

Maybe he became sick,

or lame,

or possessed by a demon.


Or maybe he had always been lost.

Maybe he was the kind of man who lived his entire life

among the brambles and weeds,

crying out for relief.


No one knows how he came to be waiting at the gate,

but then,

no one really cared, either.

Because you see,

he was almost invisible.


And yet,

Of all the people

in all the parables,

he alone is given a name…

Lazarus.

Lazarus, which means,

“God has helped.”


And Lazarus is waiting at the gate.


# #


Almost every day,

she sits in the empty doorway next to the big stone church,

a plastic bag filled with trash and treasures

keeping vigil beside her.

If you stop

and take the time to look,

you will see that she,

and the church,

have both seen better days.


Now and then,

the few people who pass by in the morning

on their way to work,

or in the evening

as they leave the bars,

can hear her sing a tuneless song in a trembling voice.


Sometimes,

when she isn’t looking,

jagged fragments of her life

return

and stab her into a clarity that makes her gasp.

And for a moment--

just that one moment--

she feels as if she could wrap her arms

around something sweet.


Sometimes,

as the fog lifts, she wonders how she got there

and why she doesn’t just go home.

But most of the time,

the days pass in a haze of booze and dementia

and aching hunger no food can ease.


And most of the time,

she is invisible.


Inside the gray stone church,

the struggling community

works hard just to stay alive.

The parish council debates an agenda item

and the head of finance pores over the bills

while the long range planning team

wrestles with a shrinking future.


If only we could attract more people…

If only we could raise enough money; reduce the debt…

If only the neighborhood hadn’t changed…


Meanwhile,

Lazarus is waiting at the gate.


# #


He was the kind of kid who never quite fit in.


In the eyes of his classmates,

he always looked a little different--

a little awkward--

a little strange.

It was as if he was pieced together

from parts that never really matched.


He was all elbows

and feet

and sticking out hair.

His clothes somehow managed to look tired and used,

even when they were new.

His smile was a shade too desperate;

his voice a bit too shrill.

His answers were often wrong,

or even worse--

unusual.


He was the kind of boy

who dies a little bit at recess

each and every day.


While the others swarmed over the field

and bragged about who was fastest and best

and who would win

and which captain would get first choose,

he stood alone,

just beyond the field,

because being chosen was not an option.


Oh, people were never openly cruel.

They didn’t really care enough to be mean.

And besides,

the playground moms who gossiped

and tied shoelaces

and patrolled the blacktop with band-aids

were too vigilant for that.


No, he was never bullied.

It’s just that most of the time,

he was completely invisible.


And in the narrow and complicated world of recess,

that could be the deepest cut of all--

far too deep to be helped by any band-aid.


And so, on that sunny suburban playground,

Lazarus was waiting at the gate.


# #


Some parables are comforting.

The Lost Sheep.

The Lost Coin.

The Lost Son.

These are stories that invite us

to marvel at God’s care and concern.


These parables remind us that we are God’s beloved--

no matter how lost we become;

no matter how far we stray.


Other parables are not quite so soothing.

Some…

Well, some of them are downright disturbing.

These parables,

like this one about Lazarus and Dives,

remind us that God loves reversals.

They remind us that what we see

is not always what God sees.


They paint a picture of discipleship

that is not exactly painless,

or simple

or even very safe.

They teach us

that some of the most serious offenses against God

are not the sins we commit,

but rather,

the acts we omit.


Apathy.

Blindness.

Absence.

Neglect.


The rich man never actively hurt Lazarus.

He didn’t hate him,

or betray him,

or abuse him.

He did not cause Lazarus to fail

or force him to beg at the gate.


He simply ignored him.


And God says,

that alone

is enough to create a chasm between us.


We desperately want this parable to be about “them.”

The Rich Athlete.

The Corporate Executive.

The Philanthropist.

The Politician With Power.

The Priest. The Social Worker. The Licensed Therapist.

You know….Them.

ThePeopleWhoShouldDoSomethingAboutThatSituation.


After all,

we don’t feast in luxury every night.

Feasting?

Most of us can barely cover

mortgage payments,

food,

tuition,

health care,

braces,

weekly offerings,

a little bit of fun.


Some of us struggle

just to make the edges of one day

meet the borders of the next.


But maybe God is trying to remind us

that the world of rich and poor;

the world of have and have not;

the world of noticed and overlooked

is not God’s creation,

but our own.


Maybe God is trying to remind us

that everything--

our lives

our talent

our ability to earn

the food on our table

the shelter over our heads

the acceptance of a group...

even our faith

is pure gift.


And because of that gift,

the way we deal with Lazarus

matters to God.

The way we view poverty and wealth

matters to God.

What we see and what we ignore

matters to God.


Through these stories God invites us to become,

not just disciples and followers,

but stewards;

partners in God’s own creative act.

As stewards,

we hold this earth;

it’s beauty, resources, food and wealth

as a trust.

As partners in God’s actions,

we cherish the lives of his people as our own.


The beggar outside the gate.

The old woman lost in disease and despair.

The child standing alone just beyond the playground.

The man struggling with addiction.

The betrayed lover, learning about forgiveness.

The church community, facing an uncertain future.

These are people beloved by God.

He knows each name,

each need,

each secret sorrow and joy

even when the world seems blind.


Maybe through this parable, God is reminding us

that no matter who we are,

no matter where we live,

Lazarus is there, waiting for us at the gate.

And somehow,

through him,

Christ is there waiting for us, too.

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