Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.- Luke16:19-21
The dogs made it into the parable. It’s funny that Jesus included them. They appear to be irrelevant to the story. I haven’t heard a sermon preached about them. Nevertheless, they caught my attention. It is hard to be among the homeless and not notice the dogs. It makes sense that Jesus included them in this parable.
Dogs in the Jesus’ period were considered to be nuisances. They were just a little better than rats. They were definitely not man’s best friend. They were despised animals and taught to fear human presence. Yet, they had no fear of Lazarus. They knew him. They were aware of his sufferings. They brought comfort to him in their own limited way. The rich man was not aware of Lazarus. This does not make him an evil man. Jesus never said this about him. He was just ignorant of Lazarus. He was too consumed in his wealth to notice the beggar’s condition. However, the dogs did.
Every day, we walk by the hundreds of Lazarus that beg and sleep in the streets. They have his wounds and sores. There are even dogs that lick their wounds. At the steps of the cathedral, there is a mutt named Billy. He belongs to no one but all the homeless including the children love him. They want him to be their pet. He is an independent spirit. He does his rounds everyday and licks and comforts the spiritual wounds of those who suffer. He growls at anyone who is not a homeless person. He only knows those who are abandoned and rejected. He has come to know us now. He comes and greets us whenever we sit at the steps of the cathedral. I think the key to understanding this parable lies in Billy the mutt.
“Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame,
You look into the fiery furnace, see the rich man without any name”- Bob Dylan, from the song,“Jokerman”
This parable is not about rich and the poor. It just tells of the contrast between two different people. The social divide is not a new thing. It has always been there and will always be. Jesus said nothing about the social injustice. He did not work concepts like social systems. He worked with individuals. There were two individuals in extremely different circumstances. This is the reality. The rich man did not do anything to cause Lazarus’ pain, but he could have done something to relieve it. It was within his power. Alas, he was too occupied having a good time with his wealth. He must have believed that he was blessed unlike Lazarus who only had dogs for companionship. Maybe he did not help Lazarus because he did not know what could be done for him. It is easy for us to criticize this man as an outsider. However, most of us have money to give to the person who begs around the corner or at the highway junction. Most of us try not to make eye contact and pretend we don’y see him. It is not because we are heartless. We just don’t know how to help in a meaningful way. The dogs did not think too much about it. They just did what they knew. Lazarus’ wounds needed to be tended. They did it. We can perhaps look beyond the money and try to discover the wounds of those who have been reduced to this desperate state. Maybe then, we can offer something more meaningful than food and money.
Alex came up to us one day at the steps of cathedral and showed us that he had gotten fifty dollars from begging. On top of that, someone had bought him a takeaway lunch and a bag full of cookies and chocolates for snacks afterwards. He was truly pleased. Then he sat there for a good fifteen minutes watching all the people going in and out of the cathedral. He decided that he was going to beg from the people. He asked for almost anything. If he saw someone chewing gum, he would ask for some. If someone was drinking a can of soda, he would ask for the rest. It was comical and yet quite revealing to us. He was begging even though he had no reason to do it. He had more than enough money for the day. Yet something was motivating him to beg. Alex is not a greedy person. He is actually quite generous. He always shares what he receives with the other children and teens. He was begging for a different reason. He was very selective. He wanted things from specific people and when they gave him what he wanted, he looked almost sad. He wanted certain people to notice him. He was begging not for monetary gain but for emotional recognition. His sad and disappointed look was because his only connection with these people ended after he received what he had asked for. Maybe he does not even realize this himself. He never asked anything from us. He knows that he has a connection with us. The other children and teens do activities with us because they know that these are symbolic gestures to show that there is a real connection between us. Begging is not just monetary. It is a plea for some human contact. It is the last and desperate attempt to reach out to humanity.
One of the saddest things for the homeless is to be invisible. Many people ignore them. Not because they are bad or unkind. They don’t how to deal with them. The homeless do many things to avoid being invisible. We have seen the homeless do weird dance routines and sing out of tune just to get some attention. We have noticed that the ones that smell the worse are the ones who are most introverted homeless people. Their dirty and pungent smell is not just a lack of hygiene. It is also their only attempt to be noticed in this world. They would do anything not to be ignored. Unfortunately, it is these very actions that sometimes keep people away from them.
Lazarus must have not been a pleasant sight. He was covered with sores in the hot desert environment. It would have been easier to ignore him than to try to do something. It is understandable why one would want to do this. However, it is not justifiable. Ignorance is not an accepted excuse. Perhaps the rich man should paid attention to the dogs. They did not have much to offer but they gave Lazarus what they could.
Lazarus was not upset that the rich man was rich. He did not think that his predicament was due to unfair social structures. All he wanted was to be satisfied with the crumbs from the table. He deserved more than this for sure but he would have been so happy with so little. The rich man had the possibility to do something good. Unfortunately, he wasn’t aware of Lazarus’ existence. He was too busy enjoying the fruits of his wealth. In the end, he only had the poverty of his soul to show for throughout eternity.
As I am writing this post, I remembered meeting a young man who used to be in square with the children and teens. He was a homeless child at one point as well. He just moved to my neighborhood recently. He is sleeping on the streets with a group of homeless adults. Incidentally, we took notice of him because he was a tough looking guy who had a poodle mutt as a pet. He found it abandoned and they were inseparable ever since. Unfortunately, the dog is gone and he is alone and sad. He saw us the other day and asked us to visit him. He said that we were like street parents to him. He did not want money from us. He just wants our time. He said that he was lonely. He is our Lazarus. We have to visit him. We walk thirty minutes to be with the other children and teens and this young man is just a block away from my apartment building. Yet I haven’t been down to see him. The truth is that I feel so comfortable here that I forget about this young man had asked us for a visit.
I am thankfully to Lazarus for reminding me that I could be like this rich man. It is easy to indulge in our own comfort zone and forget those who need their wounds to be ministered. I am going to look for this young man after I post this on my blog.